Should going for a drive be illegal? Civil liberties experts say 'no'

Should going for a drive be illegal? Civil liberties experts say 'no'

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties has called for the state's chief medical officer to be consulted about fines issued under extraordinary laws designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It follows concern that police may be issuing infringement notices to people who do not pose a risk of spreading the virus.

Under COVID-19 measures, police officers have the power to hand out fines of $1000 to individuals and $5000 to businesses that breach public health orders or ministerial directions.

The only lawful reasons to leave the house are to work, study, shop for food or other essential items, access medical care or exercise alone or with one other person.

Mick Fuller

Mick Fuller

An unapologetic NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said on Tuesday that he did not consider wanting to 'go for a drive' to be a reasonable excuse for leaving one's house on the weekend.

"If you don't really need to do it, then stay home and stay safe," he said.

"States and territories around the world who haven't taken this seriously have been punished through lots of deaths."

But NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Stephen Blanks disputed whether going for a drive should be classified as an offence.

Stephen Blanks

Stephen Blanks

"That activity has negligible community risk, of course there could be a risk if there was an accident, but it's very remote," he said.

"The experience of the past week suggests the commissioner should be getting some guidance from the chief medical officer of NSW as to whether particular activities involve community health risk."

Mr Blanks warned maintaining community support for the laws would be essential in the weeks and months ahead.

"It's unprecedented, the idea that everyone is confined to their homes unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave. The fact is there is widespread community observance of the laws, but the most important thing is the community support for them is maintained," he said.

"If the police are seen to be enforcing them in a heavy-handed way it will result in a loss of community support and will be counter-productive."

Commissioner Fuller insisted police were exercising a high degree discretion regarding whether or not to issue a fine.

"I know there's footage from day one in NSW where police were driving through a park, and that footage continues to haunt me, but we haven't been applying the law that way since then," he said.

The Council of Civil Liberties has also called for the publication of more detailed information about those who have been fined under the new laws.

"To maintain support for what are extremely extraordinary laws the community deserves to have information about how they are enforced," Mr Blanks said.

Commissioner Fuller said last week that the coronavirus enforcement laws would expire in 90 days and that he will not seek to extend them.

This story Should going for a drive be illegal? Civil liberties experts say 'no' first appeared on The Canberra Times.