EXCLUSIVE: How Government has allowed YOU to EXEMPT yourself from wearing mask with no proof needed
THE Government has opened the door for anyone to exempt themselves from wearing a facemask with no proof or medical opinion needed, Essex News and Investigations can exclusively reveal.
Under coronavirus restrictions anyone must wear a facemask on public transport, in shops and other designated indoor settings unless they have a "reasonable excuse" such as having a physical or mental disability which makes them exempt.
Police have been given powers to issue fixed-penalty fines starting at £200 to people who are not exempt who refuse to wear them in the relevant settings.
However, the government has left it open to anyone to self-exempt themselves, without any medical opinion or proof required.
The Gov.uk website states: "Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards.
"No person needs to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about their reason.
"As well as no proof needed, people also do not have to show an exemption card and there is no legal requirement to carry one."
It adds that if people feel more comfortable carrying something to show they are exempt, they can even make a homemade sign or download a template, but this is not required legally.
CLEAR: Government says no medical proof is needed and people should not be asked about exemptions
However, police are still being told to quiz people who say they are exempt. National Police Chief Council (NPCC) guidelines to officers say they should be "professionally curious, do the checks and ask the questions."
MEANINGLESS: The Government has encouraged people to download or print of this sign to self-exempt
Solicitors have said it does not seem right that police should be challenging people who say they are exempt in light of what the government has said. Lawyers fear police could issue fines based solely on their "own opinion" of people's medical conditions or if they are lying, despite no written proof needed of exemptions.
Litigation solicitor Pranav Bhanot said: "The Gov.UK website makes it clear that those with a reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence on this. "Yet confusingly, on the NCPP website, it states that the police should ask the questions. "It is unclear what checks and questions the police could possibly ask to assist them in ascertaining whether there is a reasonable excuse. "Further, it would seem inappropriate for the police to challenge someone on their confidential medical conditions. "I cannot see how a police officer by asking questions or carrying out checks can possibly make a judgment regarding the reasonable excuse. Without the need for written evidence to demonstrate a particular medical condition."
Michael Gardner, lead solicitor on a current legal challenge against the coronavirus regulations, said the inconsistencies were worrying as police officers could be issuing fines on the back of their individual view of someone's medical conditions or if someone was lying despite no proof being required. An NPCC spokesman confirmed police were asked to judge people's medical conditions or if they were lying, but claimed this was not "at odds with legislation." He said: "Of course police officers will ask questions. Unfortunately some people lie to the police and so it is absolutely right that they 'do the checks and ask the questions' so they can uphold the law. "Our guidance to officers is to ask questions so they can ascertain if someone is entitled to an exemption from the law. That is in keeping with the legislation."
Essex News and Investigations pressed the point that police officers were being asked to made medical judgements on people not required to show any proof and the NPCC spokesman failed to respond further.
ESSEX NEWS AND INVESTIGATIONS OPINION
The Government has dealt another blinder here - on the one hand saying everyone has to wear masks in the designated settings - but making it almost impossible to enforce.
If no medical opinion is needed and no proof required, what is there to stop anyone saying they are exempt.
The only problem is this doesn't seem to have been passed on to the National Police Chief's Council who are telling officers to ask questions of people who claim they are exempt and to be curious.
What is the point of this? If no proof is needed and no medical opinion it just leaves a lowly PC having to make a call on whether someone has a medical exemption or not - and they are not qualified to do that. Or they just have to decide if someone is lying - again a subjective call.
If one of these cases ever gets to court it could be difficult to prosecute even if the person was lying due to what the Government has published.
And that is probably why there have only been around 90 fines issued for not wearing facemasks across the country so far.
The other problem for the Government was that they probably knew, with the impact of lockdowns on the NHS and the difficulties people now face getting a standard GP appointment, there was little chance of anyone being assessed by a doctor in a timely manner to see if they were genuinely exempt.