Student Residence and Student Rights: Police Corona Inspections on University Campus’
Student Residence and Student Rights: Police Corona Inspections on University Campus’
By Ahmed Hossain QC
17 March 2021
At my university it was believed that a large hall of residence was constructed using plans from a prison in Sweden. Of course, any similarities ended there.
As Lockdown 3 approaches staged relaxation, some students living in halls have reported that police officers have entered halls of residence and issued fines for breaches under the Coronavirus Act.
There is no doubt that the exceptional circumstance of the pandemic has required social restrictions and police action where substantial risk arises from breaches of the relevant legislation.
The complaints raised by students are that the reported police actions within their halls of residence are oppressive and disproportionate with questions being asked as to whether such actions are lawful.
Unlawful entry to a private living space may result in a claim for damages arising out of trespass and unlawful imprisonment, in addition to the distress caused.
The mechanism to challenge a fixed penalty is through the Courts and losing the challenge can result in a recorded criminal conviction, which may cause serious issues for the student population as they move on.
So it is worth considering the unusual situation in which the student population live in lockdown 3.
Halls of residence provide accommodation for students, often living on their own for the first time. The format encourages social integration between large numbers of students in a safe, private environment.
Some students have reported police officers entering their halls, with consent from the University, knocking on doors to check that no breaches of the Coronavirus Act are taking place, and issuing penalties.
Can the police do this?
The circumstances in which police officers may enter a private home without the permission of the occupier are contained within s.17 PACE Act 1984. In summary they are;
- To execute a warrant
- To arrest a person for an indictable offence
- To arrest a person on suspicion of fear or provocation of violence
- To arrest a person on suspicion of driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs
- To arrest a person for failing to stop when required to do so by an officer in uniform
- To recapture a person unlawfully at large
- To prevent serious injury or damage to property.
What additional police powers of entry have been granted through Coronavirus legislation?
Schedule 21(6) of the Coronavirus Act 2020 enabled police officers to remove ‘potentially infectious persons’ from a location for the purposes of preventing the spread of the virus. A public health official is required to confirm the ‘potentially infectious’ status of the person.
6(1)This paragraph applies if, during a transmission control period, a public health officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person in England is potentially infectious.
(2)The public health officer may, subject to sub-paragraph (3)-
(a)direct the person to go immediately to a place specified in the direction which is suitable for screening and assessment,
(b)remove the person to a place suitable for screening and assessment, or
(c)request a constable to remove the person to a place suitable for screening and assessment (and the constable may then do so).
- The assessment and direction of a public health official is required before any removal of persons can lawfully take place. Of note, officers entering a house party in the North of England relied upon this legislation. On appeal the entry was determined as unlawful as there was no information or input from a public health official suggesting that any of those issued fixed penalties were ‘potentially infectious persons.’
By Ahmed Hossain QC
Ahmed Hossain QC is consistently instructed to act in cases involving the most serious and complex allegations requiring detailed cross-examination and analysis of scientific, financial and electronic evidence.
Frequently instructed by both the prosecution and defence in allegations involving sexual offending against multiple complainants.
Schedule 22 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 enables police officers to carry out the following actions when encountering gatherings, including a private home (emphasis added);
Power to prohibit or otherwise restrict events or gatherings in England
5(1)The Secretary of State may, for the purpose of-
(a)preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or
(b)facilitating the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources,
issue a direction prohibiting, or imposing requirements or restrictions in relation to, the holding of an event or gathering in England.
(2)A direction under sub-paragraph (1) may be issued in relation to-
(a)a specified event or gathering, or
(b)events or gatherings of a specified description.
(3)A direction under sub-paragraph (1) may only have the effect of imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on-
(a)the owner or occupier of premises for an event or gathering to which the direction relates;
(b)the organiser of such an event or gathering;
(c)any other person involved in holding such an event or gathering.
• So, the police may issue directions to the organiser of a specified gathering that restrict the event, however, no additional power to enter a private home is granted and the permission of the occupier (not guest) is still required.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020
These regulations addressed ‘lockdown’ restrictions
Regulation 7 addressed gatherings (2 persons) and permitted activities and Regulation 8 confirmed the police power to enforce the additional restrictions. Regulation 8(3) is set out below (emphasis added) and details the power to ‘remove’ a person who is outside ‘the place where they are living’, ‘to’ their living place.
(3) Where a relevant person considers that a person is outside the place where they are living in contravention of regulation 6(1), the relevant person may-
(a)direct that person to return to the place where they are living, or
(b)remove that person to the place where they are living.
A clarification of ‘the place where they are living’ is given as;
the place where a person is living includes the premises where they live together with any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse or other appurtenance of such premises.
It is Lockdown III. 4 people are in a ground floor flat usually occupied by 1. They can be seen through the window dancing, hugging, and heard providing a unique rendition of NWA’s ‘F*** Da Police’, interspersed with coughing fits. Two police officers outside notice a sign on the door saying ‘Party.Today.’
Can they enter the flat without being invited in by the occupier?
Not unless any of the situations (such as arrest for an indictable offence) are present specified in s.17 PACE 1984 (above).
Can one of the guests provide permission to enter?
Not if they indicate that they are not the occupier when asked by the officers.
Can they remove the attendees as ‘potentially infectious persons’?
Not without an assessment from a health official (designated) and authority for removal granted to the officers. Even if possible, the 3 would have to be transferred to a testing location as specified in Sch.21 Coronavirus Act 2020.
Can they knock on the door and ask for permission to enter?
Does the occupier have to allow them in (even partially)?
No (unless they have a warrant or the situations specified in Schedule 17 PACE apply).
Does the fact that the officers can see and hear the suspect gathering mean that they have to be allowed entry?
Can the officers issue a written notice restricting further parties?
To the organiser/manager/involved in the gathering, possibly.
Can the officers prevent more people arriving?
Can the officers issue fixed penalties from outside the property?
Unique circumstances – Halls of Residence
Communal areas in halls of residence would seem to fall within ‘the place where they are living’ as an appurtenance. The real issue is how far the permission to enter given by the University to the police extends.
University students are usually required to sign an agreement before they move into a hall of residence. These agreements confirm that the University can give consent for others to enter the building and, in certain circumstances, entry to the student’s room.
Universities declare their respect for the privacy of the student and usually specify the kind of events justifying entry to a private room. Often, written notice will be given of the intended entry (maintenance etc.) and only in situations of emergency, without notice.
If the police have information that a prohibited gathering is happening, one can see the logic in the University allowing entry to the building, however, the reports of officers moving through the corridors speculatively checking for prohibited activity and knocking on doors, is very different.
The student often lives, sleeps, works, in one small room that is in reality, a private home. The presence of uniformed police officers at their ‘bedroom door’ is likely to have a substantial lasting effect on most young students given the limited life experience through age.
If the police have no additional powers to enter your home, what is the reason for entry being allowed? It seems unlikely that speculative checking for breaches described would fall into the scenarios identified in the agreement signed by the student?
Police attendance for a specific incident may seem unobjectionable, but the appearance of officers patrolling corridors and common rooms, knocking on doors and issuing substantial penalties to those living alone for the first time will inevitably be described as disproportionate and oppressive leaving a feeling that the University has failed to respect the students’ privacy, as expected.
The student may be entitled to refuse entry to the knocking officers, but it could be argued that the permission granted extends to the individual room as a result of the occupancy agreement. How many 18-20 year olds are likely stick to their refusal?
Academic institutions tell us that the student population should be commended for their compliance with variable restrictions and confinement away from home. If entry is granted without limitations and recognition of the rights to privacy, the Universities may find increasing comparisons to life in custody.
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