Where do you stand legally if you don’t wear a mask?
By Amanda Hamilton, NALP
Concern over the Delta variant has seen all four UK nations apply brakes to the easing of restrictions. This has been a blow to many businesses, but it is a brake, not a reversal, and we are still slowly emerging from lockdown. The prospect of a return to our old normal (or something close to it) is more likely than it has been for some time. And that has many people considering the future of masks: specifically, questioning how soon until they can stop wearing one.
Official guidelines still recommend mask wearing and social distancing, but if you take the step not to continue with mask wearing, and you contract Covid, or worse, you are a carrier and pass it on to someone else, whose fault is it, and can they or you be held legally liable?
The law will naturally be vague over this issue as we have yet to experience such a case. In many ways, it will be like trying to ascertain how you contracted a common cold. It will be difficult to pinpoint who had passed it on or from which location the virus was contracted. However, the subtle difference in this circumstance, is that having taken the step to refrain from mask wearing, you may be the only person to do so, and the finger may easily point at you.
So, the question is whether you can be held liable in law?
The simple answer is probably in the negative. The reason for this is that there is no law making it mandatory to wear masks, it is simply a guideline suggested by the Government in order to keep people as safe as possible. So, it will definitely not be a crime (an offence against the State). But, could it be a civil wrong (an action caused by one individual against another individual causing injury or damage)? The answer to that is, maybe.
The fact that there is no crime committed, as there is no statute stating that mask wearing is mandatory, does not mean that an individual who believes they have a claim against another in say, negligence (not wearing a mask) that has caused personal injury (contracting Covid) cannot sue that individual through the civil courts. Winning such an action, gives rise to the automatic remedy of damages (compensation). The amount of damages, depends on the injuries and loss suffered.
Furthermore, the burden of proof, (evidence that a claimant needs to produce to prove their case) is a lower burden than that of a criminal action. The burden in a civil action is that the claimant must prove their case on ‘a balance of probabilities’, i.e. that the claimant is more likely than not to be right, and has weightier evidence than the defendant (the person they are suing). Whereas the burden of proof in a criminal action is that the prosecution must prove their case ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’.
If it is clear, therefore, that an individual is not wearing a mask amongst hundreds of others who are, then it is likely that the finger will be pointed at that person. So, is it worth risking not wearing a mask?
Large numbers of people have been vaccinated, but it is worth being clear about the numbers: 70 (plus) million vaccinations have been carried out across the UK; the number of people in the four nations who have had at least one dose is a little over 40 million; a little more than 30 million people have received second doses; the UK population is around 66.5 million.
It is also crucial to remember that the vaccination does NOT prevent you from contracting the virus. What the vaccine is meant to do is to reduce the serious effects that the virus can have, and to reduce fatalities. Furthermore, we should not forget that the virus is mutating in order to survive, and that means that we are bound to get another wave or two before the virus dies out completely. So, while some may believe it is ‘all over’, it is not.
We should therefore be sensible, and responsible to those around us and wait until the figures are zero, both for infections and fatalities, for a number of weeks, or perhaps even months, before we take the decision to refrain from wearing a mask or social distancing.
Otherwise, is it worth the risk? Answer: most definitely not!
However, if you do run into legal difficulties related to Covid, then a paralegal can help and will be considerably more cost effective than a solicitor. Paralegals are legally trained, can do many (but not all) of the same jobs as a solicitor and can assist you at a reasonable cost.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.