Are the Risks of Going out Greater for Professionals?
In these times of lockdown, we are thinking a lot about risk, and especially the risk of going out from home. We probably all take our hand sanitiser with us (assuming we are lucky enough to have any) and try to observe social distancing on those infrequent trips to the shops for essential items – and then wash our hands like a demented Macbeth on our return home.
We read about or encountered (in my case in the Post office) those people who do not seem to be taking the pandemic seriously or are unaware of or unconcerned about the guidance on social distancing, or who are possibly just plain rude.
The police have issued a number of Fixed Penalty Notices under the new Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. There have been concerns about some police forces interpreting the regulations incorrectly or over strictly. There is still an element of judgement required.
Driving to the country for a walk is apparently acceptable if the drive takes less time than the walk, but sunbathing in the park or inviting friends round for a BBQ in your garden is not allowed.
So leaving aside the risk of a fine for breaching these new regulations, what are the risks to professionals of this?
As professionals, we trade on our reputations. If it gets known in your local business community or reported in the press that you have received a penalty for breaching the lockdown regulations, that will not be good. It would be like being convicted for drink-driving, which is generally and rightfully perceived as a bad thing to do.
But what about your professional body?
As solicitors, our governing body, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), can take action against solicitors who behave in a manner which brings the profession into disrepute and, furthermore, solicitors have a duty to report themselves to the SRA if they do anything that might raise a question as to their character or suitability to practise as a solicitor.
So, does receiving a fine for breaching the new regulations amount to a breach of the SRA Code and should solicitors report themselves, or their colleagues, to the SRA if they receive one?
That will probably depend on the severity of the situation and how cooperative the individual was. By way of example, existing Fixed Penalty Notices for minor offences under the Public Order Act are dealt with on a case by case basis by the SRA. They effectively assess the severity of the scenario on the facts. It is therefore uncomfortable and difficult to predict. Driving a bit too far from home to walk the dog on a different route and a very polite discussion with the police, agreeing to return home and not do it again, is a very different scenario to holding an illicit party and arguing with the police when they arrive.
We do not know of any instances yet, but you should be aware of the risks.
We are available, as always, to discuss any issues you may have. How you report things to the SRA – openly, transparently and credibly – often determines the outcome. So if you get one of these, do get in touch as soon as possible.