Letter to West Yorkshire Police re: mask exemptions

Written by: Miri
January 15, 2021
 | No Comments

15th January, 2021

Dear West Yorkshire Police,

I am writing to you in a further attempt to satisfy my query regarding mask exemptions.

As you will be aware, large swathes of the population are exempt from mask-wearing under the law. As per the Government's website, this includes, but is not limited to:

  • children under the age of 11 (Public Health England does not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
  • people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others ‒ including if it would negatively impact on your ability to exercise or participate in a strenuous activity

(Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own)

Further, the Government clearly stipulates that the mask-exempt are not required to show any proof of their exemption, including a badge or lanyard, and doctors' surgeries have announced they will not be issuing exemption letters.

(Source: https://www.burtondocs.co.uk/2020/07/21/face-mask-exemption-letters-no-gp-medical-letter-needed/).

Therefore, if a member of the public is approached by a police officer and asked why they are not wearing a mask, it is not incumbent on the individual to "prove" they are exempt, nor does the law require them to do so. In fact, asking an individual for private medical details regarding why they are not wearing a mask may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 as pertains to disabilities discrimination, carrying with it potentially hefty fines.

This being the case, I fail to see how it is legally valid for the police to attempt to enforce mask-wearing, without being in breach of the law themselves. 

I attempted to address this issue via a "live chat" with West Yorkshire Police on 12/01/21, the full transcript of which I reproduce below. I asked the "operator" (who declined to volunteer a name) what precisely the protocol would be for the police dealing with the mask-exempt. The "operator" replied:"If someone is exempt, then the reason for this will be given to Officer that nay [sic] have approached them. Then it will be down the Officer to look into if it is genuine or not." [Grammar errors are operator's.]

I asked how an officer would determine that, to which the operator replied:

"It depends on what sources the Officer has at their disposal."
With respect, this is an utterly meaningless response. Such a statement leaves the recipient with absolutely no guidance whatsoever as to how to behave so as to remain within the law. How can the public be expected to observe a law that is so ambiguous that even the police themselves are not able to coherently explain it?

I would like to gain some clarity from you on exactly how police officers intend to enforce mask-wearing, and what steps they have been instructed to take to ensure they are not in breach of either the Disabilities Discrimination Act, nor the Equality Act 2010.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Miri Finch

Chat Transcript Starts Below

2021-01-12 12:22:14 INFO: An agent has joined the conversation. Welcome to the West Yorkshire Police 101 Live Chat.
2021-01-12 12:22:27 Miri: Hello.
2021-01-12 12:22:43 Operator: Hello, Welcome to the West Yorkshire Police 101 Live Chat, please be aware that we also deal with 999 calls so there maybe a delay in answering your queries, How can I help?
2021-01-12 12:24:44 Miri: I have a query about mask exemptions. There are many exemptions to wearing a mask under the law. According to the Government's website, the mask exempt do not have to provide proof of exemption, and doctors have said they will not issue exemption letters (please see here: https://www.burtondocs.co.uk/2020/07/21/face-mask-exemption-letters-no-gp-medical-letter-needed/). So if someone is challenged by the police as to why they are not wearing a mask, and they are legally exempt, how are they to prove this to the police?
2021-01-12 12:27:00 Operator: If someone is exempt, then the reason for this will be given to Officer that nay have approached them. Then it will be down the Officer to look into if it is genuine or not.
2021-01-12 12:27:16 Miri: How will an officer determine that?
2021-01-12 12:28:10 Operator: It depends on what sources the Officer has at their disposal. Are you exempt?
2021-01-12 12:29:22 Miri: According to the Equality Act 2010, people with hidden disabilities are protected by law from disclosing details of what their hidden disability is. I presume this includes the police. Can you please clarify?
2021-01-12 12:31:42 Operator: You would be best looking at the Gov website for this information, or at least more in depth information. I am not an Officer so I cannot clarify this for you.
2021-01-12 12:33:20 Miri: Yes, I have looked at it. It says those who are exempt are not required to show proof or doctors' letters. It doesn't make an exception for the police, so I therefore conclude it is not a legal requirement for the mask exempt to give any further information to the police further than stating that they are exempt.
2021-01-12 12:34:50 Operator: Again, outside of what the website states I cannot advise.
2021-01-12 12:34:54 Operator: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
2021-01-12 12:35:18 Miri: Please could you email me a transcript of this conversation?
2021-01-12 12:35:44 Operator: Thank you for contacting us today. A summary of the discussion will be automatically emailed to you. If you need to contact us again, our 24/7 contact number for all non-emergencies is 101, and for emergencies 999. You can also use our online crime reporting form on www.westyorkshire.police.uk/contact-us/report-crime. There are more details on how to contact West Yorkshire Police on www.westyorkshire.police.uk/contactus
2021-01-12 12:36:04 Miri: Thank you.

End Of Chat Transcript.  

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