I did a short trip to my local Co-op on Sunday. We needed some essentials – cheese, coffee, oranges etc – all perfectly legal. As a treat, I slipped in a bar of Cadburys Whole Nut and a couple of bottles of wine. I was then instinctively looking over my shoulder until I left the shop. Were these illicit purchases? What if I was stopped and searched? Was I liable to banged up in an obscure jail and never seen again? Has one week’s social distancing done this to us already??
I have spent my whole life buying chocolate without a care in the world.
Former Supreme Court Justice, Lord Sumption has strong words to say about excessive policing particularly in Derbyshire. This followed their decision to use drone footage of ramblers to dissuade people from driving for the daily walk, and place dye in a 'lagoon'.
"The police have no power to enforce ministers' preferences but only legal regulations which don't go anything like as far as the government's guidance,". He is right but it does seem that in other areas the police have been very pragmatic.
Another, more extreme story concerns Easter Eggs –
This is uncomfortably close to my own Cadbury’s Whole Nut crisis! Stores have been under pressure to limit what they actually sell to the public, and in particular to ban Easter Eggs!!!
In fact, the restrictions are about which stores have had to close –
Shops that can remain open include supermarkets and food shops, and corner shops and newsagents.
There is nothing about what those stores can and cannot sell. This would be my robust defence to a charge of shopping without due care and attention. I suppose a person might be criticised if they filled a trolley with Stella Artois and nothing else. But is this actually an offence? One of the problems is that we have Regulations which say what we must do or not do, and we have guidance which say what we should do.
We are living through strange and worrying times. Who would have thought in January that I would be writing about the legal complications of chocolate by March?
I do think a period of calm is needed. Of course, it is excessive to feel guilty about an occasional treat. We all want to feel safe. Unusually strong rhetoric has been necessary to force some people to see the importance of staying at home. In the last week I have queued outside a pharmacy for an hour and a supermarket for half an hour. Everyone has been good humoured and co-operative. I don’t think now is the time for arguments about infringement of civil liberties. On the other hand, neither is it a time for heavy handed policing and control.
I think we have enough on our minds.