Face Coverings while using Public Transport a short note by Richard English

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020, came into force on 15 June 2020. These statutory instruments were made under the powers provided for by s45C(1) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984,[1] and notwithstanding they were not debated or considered in Parliament, they have the same effect as an Act of Parliament

The new rules apply only in England. They regulate what a person will have to do when travelling on public transport. Public transport means any means of getting from A to B which is available to the general public whether for payment or not. It includes buses, trains, trams, vessels and planes which take off or land at an English airport.[2] It does not include school transport, taxis or private hire vehicles and cruise ships.

It is now a legal requirement to wear a ‘face covering’ when using public transport in England.   A face covering means a covering of any type which covers a person’s nose and mouth[3]. No person may, without reasonable excuse, use a public transport service without wearing a face covering[4].

There are exceptions[5] for children under the age of 11, employees of the public transport service acting in the course of their employment, those providing a service under arrangements made with the operator of the public transport service, Police, emergency responders[6], and members of the Border Force.

If you have an allocated cabin, berth or ‘similar accommodation’[7] and are either on your own or with a member of your household, or ‘linked household’[8] you don’t have to wear a face covering while in your accommodation. Equally, if you remain in your vehicle while using the public transport service, a face covering is not required to be worn.

A reasonable excuse for not wearing a face covering may include if you cannot put on, wear or remove a covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability within the meaning of section 6 the Equality Act 2010[9]; you are travelling with someone who relies on lip reading to communicate with you; if you remove your face covering to avoid harm or injury to you or another person; if you are travelling to avoid injury or to escape a risk of harm and do not have a face covering; if it is ‘reasonably necessary’ to eat or drink; or you need to take medication, or if a ‘relevant person’[10] asks you to remove your face covering.

If you don’t wear a face covering when attempting to board a bus, train or plane you can be prevented from boarding. When on the train, bus etc you can be directed to wear a face covering or told to get off. And if, having being told by a Constable to disembark and you don’t, you can be removed using reasonable force.

If you do use a public transport service without a face covering, you may be issued with a fixed penalty notice,[11] but you also commit an arrestable offence. For the purpose of these regulations, section 24 of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is to be read as if the necessary arrest criteria included: maintaining public health or maintaining public order.   This is a summary only offence punishable by a fine.[12]

These regulations must be reviewed within six months and will expire on 14 June 2021.

Richard English

15 June 2020


Part One of criminal update


[1] The appropriate Minister may by regulations make provision for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination in England and Wales (whether from risks originating there or elsewhere)

[2] Regulation 1(3)(b)

[3] Regulation 2(1)

[4] Regulation 3(1)

[5] Regulation 3(3)

[6] Naturally, if you want to know what ‘emergency responder’ means, you need to turn to s153A of the Inheritance Act 1984.

[7] Regular travellers on the 08.04 from Preston to Victoria will have noticed this new addition to Northern’s service

[8] Regulation 7A, Heath Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations SI 2020/350

[9] The impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on (the person’s) ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

[10] Police Officer, PCSO or someone who works for the transport provider – see Reg 5(9)

[11] To avoid proceedings pay £50 within 14 days, or £100 within 28 days

[12] No maximum is set