Boris Johnson has said that breaching social contact rules during the coronavirus crisis will no longer be illegal.
On Tuesday, the prime minister outlined the government’s next steps for relaxing the lockdown in England.
From 4 July, two households will be allowed to meet indoors and stay overnight, as long as they practice social distancing.
Johnson also announced that the two-metre social distancing rule will be relaxed to “one metre plus” in order to allow pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers to reopen from 4 July.
There was anger that the government has decided to reopen pubs ahead of gyms and pools.
Announcing the new measures in the Commons, the prime minister said breaching social contact rules will no longer be illegal.
"From now on, we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact instead of legislation,” he said.
"In that spirit, we advise that from 4 July, two households of any size should be able to meet in any setting inside or out.
"That does not mean they must always be the same two households, it will be possible for instance to meet one set of grandparents one weekend, the others the following weekend.
"But we are not recommending meetings of multiple households indoors because of the risk of creating greater chains of transmission."
Legal experts have been highly critical of the government’s coronavirus legislation.
At the beginning of this month, an amendment to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Bill made it illegal to have sex in your own home during lockdown with someone from outside your household.
But some lawyers pointed out that someone could potentially have sex with an escort in their home as it might be deemed legal for work purposes.
Anyone breaching lockdown laws could have been fined £100, halved to £50 if paid within 14 days.
Johnson’s comment indicates the public in England will be asked to use their common sense going forward.
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However, legal experts accused the government of deliberately creating confusion between what is guidance and what is the law.
Following Johnson’s announcement, human rights barrister Adam Wagner accused the prime minister of moving “between these concepts carelessly”.
He pointed out that the two-metre recommendation has never been a legal rule in England, but merely guidance.
He said on Twitter: “I don’t doubt that imposing the lockdown has been an extraordinarily difficult task.
One area of constant confusion since the lockdown began is the difference between the criminal law rules (where not following them can lead to a criminal conviction) and the government’s guidance (which is advice but not law) /1— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) June 23, 2020
“What is the correct balance between law and guidance, carrot and stick? But the government has not trusted people, really, because if it had it wouldn’t have created this confusion over law and guidance, which I suspect has been deliberate, to make people confused and reticent.”
He forecast that the existing coronavirus law “will be amended but kept on the statute books in some limited form, all with no notice or parliamentary debate”.
Lawyer and writer David Allen Green tweeted: “Herein the root of so many problems about the legal side of coronavirus.
“Nobody will ever be held accountable for this utter law vs guidance mess, but it was botched from the beginning.”
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