As if EHPs and the police don’t have enough to deal with trying to enforce the many and various iterations of COVID-19 regulations that have emerged during the pandemic (usually coming into force immediately and accompanied by poor guidance and a complete absence of meaningful definitions) they also have to deal with a new and exotic form of defendant – the Magna Carta warrior.
These individuals are often hairdressers, tattoo artists, gym owners or publicans who refuse to close their business premises as required by the regulations. They cite a variety of nonsensical arguments based variously in Article 61 (properly described as Chapter 61) of Magna Carta, common law, the English and commonwealth constitution and the constitutional sovereignty of the Queen. All of the arguments, couched in legalese, are put before somewhat startled Clerks to the Justices as Notices of Lawful Objection and Declarations of Standing in Law and are accompanied by the posting in a prominent position on their premises of an official Notice of Practical Lawful Dissent.
This colourful certificate indicates to any enforcement officers that any attempt to enforce unlawful acts, statutes or legislative laws is an Act of High Treason (their capitals) which evidently still carries ‘the Gallows’. The various legal arguments are discussed and honed in online forums and considerable reliance is placed on them – such that several of the main protagonists have accumulated significant sums in fines through repeat offending.
Unfortunately for these fearless freedom fighters their arguments are spurious at best, unbridled rubbish at worst. Their reliance on common law is unfortunately trumped by the concept that Parliament is sovereign and any legislation it makes is superior to common law. The concept of government of the people by the people with the consent of the people that underpins parliamentary democracy kills off their ‘need to consent’ argument, and their reliance on Magna Carta fails to take account of the fact that the document was addressed to 25 barons, not the population at large and in any event was declared void within 12 months of its being signed. Although various bits were revived piecemeal, Chapter 61, on which such reliance is placed, never was.
People with misplaced beliefs in what the law is says and how it can be used are nothing new, but these individuals are taking up huge amounts of enforcement officers’ limited time and, I suspect, patience. How should they be dealt with? In my view the same as every other lawbreaker. First explain the law. They won’t listen; but do it once and advise them to take proper legal advice from a proper lawyer. Then take enforcement action. Impose a fine. Serve a notice and close the premises with immediate effect. And repeat. Take no nonsense. Encourage, advise and then enforce and use all of the publicity vehicles at your disposal to demonstrate that you mean what you say. Don’t engage in discussion; it's pointless. Use the iron fist in the velvet glove approach.
COVID-19 kills. Our raison d’etre is to protect public health. Indulging idiots is not protecting public health. Taking enforcement action to deter non-compliance is.
Julie Barratt is an EHP, barrister, trainer (owner of JB Legal Training), author and president-elect of CIEH