December 9, 2021

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Home Office criticised over coronavirus laws crackdown video

The Home Office has been accused of “grossly” misstating coronavirus rules after it said “all gatherings are currently against the law”.

The Twitter post accompanied a video which said “meeting up is against the law” as it showed footage of police raiding house parties as it warned people not to break lockdown rules, without clarifying that several exceptions permit some gatherings.

Some lawyers hit out at the language and called for the footage to be corrected or removed.

Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers who has been interpreting coronavirus laws for the public on social media, said on Twitter: “Oh my goodness. I’m not sure where to start.

“This is the Home Office, the government department responsible for law and order.

“This tweet and video grossly misstate the law. All gatherings are *not* illegal.

“There are a huge number gatherings which *are* legal…”

Parties and most other social gatherings are currently illegal in England under lockdown laws but there are exceptions for people meeting, including for work, volunteering, helping vulnerable people and to attend support groups.

Mr Wagner described the post as “legally illiterate”, warning “It could lead to people misunderstanding … It should be removed” but added: “I have no issue with the Home Office advertising that gatherings indoors for parties are currently illegal – but this isn’t the way to do it.”

It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel was accused of adding to confusion around the laws after appearing to become muddled on them twice in a week.

Home Secretary Priti Patel

Home Secretary Priti Patel (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Last month she said people should exercise alone, despite the rules permitting activity with a friend, which was later corrected by Downing Street.

Days earlier at a Number 10 press conference, she said that “outdoor recreation” is permitted in a “restricted and limited way” – despite it being prohibited during the lockdown – moments after insisting the coronavirus rules are “actually very simple and clear”.

Aides later said she misspoke.

The Home Office’s 50-second clip features snippets of bodycam footage where police have caught rule breakers and told viewers they should not go to parties, raves and baby showers.

While some online said they could not see a problem with the film and understood the message, others mocked it for its drum and bass soundtrack and jagged, flashing lettering reminiscent of the Federation Against Copyright Theft anti-piracy advert in the early 2000s which was famously parodied in comedy The IT Crowd, prompting several memes poking fun.

Its style was also compared to an advert for sci-fi show Black Mirror.

When asked about concerns over the confusion the post and video could cause regarding the law, a Home Office spokeswoman said the video referred to “illegal social gatherings which should not be taking place”, adding: “We make absolutely no apologies for encouraging people to follow the rules during a global pandemic.”

The spokeswoman declined to comment further when asked whether any changes would be made to the post and video in light of the concerns raised and would not confirm if the wording had been approved by senior officials.

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