Police in Northern Ireland are facing a potential legal challenge over whether officers have the power to enter private homes to enforce Covid rules.
tormont’s Department of Health is also included in the move questioning the basis of the contention that coronavirus regulations give police the authority to enter private dwellings to investigate alleged breaches, such as holding house parties.
Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson issued pre-action correspondence to the department and the Police Service of Northern Ireland on Sunday. He has also notified the Department of Justice as a noticed party to his challenge.
Pre-action correspondence is the first step toward potential judicial review proceedings. It gives respondents a set period to remedy issues raised by an applicant.
Mr Bryson argues that Northern Ireland’s health protection regulations do not bestow powers of entry to private dwellings in the absence of a warrant.
He contends that entry in such circumstances would breach common law principles and infringe human-rights legislation.
The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, has also previously raised questions and sought clarity on the power of entry issue.
The PSNI and Justice Minister Naomi Long have both argued the power is available to officers under the regulations.
Assistant chief constable Alan Todd has said the step would only be taken if it was considered “necessary and proportionate”.
Mr Bryson has requested the Department of Health confirms the coronavirus regulations do not bestow powers of entry on designated persons in respect of private dwellings.
He has asked the PSNI to do similar and concede that previous claims to the contrary by the organisation were “inaccurate”.
He has sought a reply by Monday January 25.
Mr Bryson made clear he was not encouraging anyone to breach coronavirus regulations.
However, he said the challenge involved an important point of legal principle.
“Every person should abide by the regulations,” he said.
“This is not an encouragement for anyone to behave in breach of the public health guidance and nor is it an endorsement for those foolishly having house parties and placing others at risk.
“Rather it is a fundamental matter of principle that, regardless of circumstances, the police and government departments cannot be permitted to indicate they have powers they do not have, even if such an approach is subjectively judged to be for the ‘greater good’.
“That precedent would create all sorts of dangers for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
“The PSNI and Executive should now commit to writing a clear outline of the purported legal basis for claiming they have powers of entry into private dwellings.”