Deciphering covid legislation on the rule of 6

Having unsuccessfully tried to get clarity on exactly what this means for gatherings of 6 where children are upstairs or in bed, this is my reading of the law.

1) The legislation: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/684

The rule is that: “During the emergency period, no person may participate in a gathering which consists of more than six people.”

A gathering is defined by the legislation as: “when two or more people are present together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other.” Where a “place” is “a place is indoors if it would be considered to be enclosed or substantially enclosed.”

As children upstairs or in bed are not present nor intending to engage in social interaction or activity, they do not therefore fall under the definition of gathering.

2) The FAQS: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

It states: “It is against the law to gather in groups of more than six, where people are from different households or support bubbles. The rule above does not mean that there cannot be more than six people in any one place. All activities for under 18s are exempt. There can be multiple groups of six people in a place, provided that those groups do not mingle. In practice, however, this will make it difficult for some activities to take place without breaking the law. Activities where there is a significant likelihood of groups of more than six mingling – and therefore breaking the law – should not take place until further COVID-19 Secure guidance has been developed and approved to enable the activity to happen safely.”

 

This seems quite clear that law is not broken by people elsewhere in a place, but only if there is mingling, which given the legislation would entail social interaction or activity.

 

3) The clarification:

 

The specific answer the government has passed to denomination leaders is: “The law is clear. If there is any risk that a group of more than six will mix (including young children) then this must not happen.”

 

But as one lawyer has said in an email, “this is again vague.” And it is. Yet, to my mind it is consistent with the above. The government cannot say the rule of 6 includes children in bed because the legislation is clear that it doesn’t. But if children did enter a gathering and mix (ie. engage in social interaction or activity), the law would be broken. The problem is over what is reasonable in guarding against “any risk.” It seems sensible to presume the equivalent of guarding against “any risk” of another mixing with a group of 6 in a restaurant or when chatting outside. Indeed, there would seem more risk in these contexts. Nevertheless, a parent with the children, a locked inner door, or a requirement that the children knock and wait for someone if in need, would seem to deal with this risk.

 

4) The media:

 

A Sun article argues the same point, that the legislation does permit gathering if kids asleep: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/12663665/coronavirus-rule-small-print-kids-asleep/

 

One article explicitly states it has been confirmed that babies in bed don’t count: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/12622032/coronavirus-england-rule-six-fine-children/

 

The need for clarity.

 

Denominational leaders think the rule of 6 includes all in the house. But because they are looked to by so many, they are likely to er on the side of caution. And they have not been able to provide any clear statements to this effect, other than a sense this is what the government wants. I therefore emailed my MP for clarity, but have had no response.

 

As things stand, I therefore think church leaders should be reluctant to disallow community groups or hospitality where adults might number 6 with children upstairs or in bed, because that is a big cost to our fellowship when the law actually seems to allow this, and is at best unclear. If things continue this way for 6 months, that would bring a significant impact – especially to churches that have no building of their own.

 

The problem, however, whilst denominational leaders are not taking a lead on this, is that it leaves church members unsure of the law. So, if church groups of 6 did gather with children upstairs, those invited might be worried they were breaking the law by coming or those hosting might be acting against conscience. On the principle of Romans 14, this leaves ministers no choice than to include children anywhere in the house within the 6, even when they think the law doesn’t require that.