Those British Isles lockdown questions answered

Do I have to stay at home all day?

No. You may leave home if you have a “reasonable excuse.” Unless you live on the Isle of Man (and possibly in the Bailliwick of Guernsey) where even a reasonable excuse is no excuse.

What is a reasonable excuse?

It is an excuse which is reasonable.

Can you give me any examples?

There are lots of excuses which are deemed reasonable throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The full list is quite a mouthful but here it is:

In these jurisdictions a reasonable excuse includes:

the need:

(a) to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household)

(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;

(c) to seek medical assistance …;

(d) to provide care or assistance … to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;

(e) to donate blood;

(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

(g) to attend a funeral of—

(i) a member of the person’s household,

(ii) a close family member, or

(iii) if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;

(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;

(i) to access critical public services, including—

(i) childcare or educational facilities …;

(ii) social services;

(iii) services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;

(iv) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);

(j) … to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, …

(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;

(l) to move house where reasonably necessary;

(m) to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

That seems clear enough. So I can leave the house to exercise as much as I want?

Maybe, but not necessarily, and probably not in Wales.

Why not in Wales?

For obscure reasons the Welsh regulations differ from those in the rest of the UK, and deem that it is reasonable to exercise “no more than once a day.” That does not mean that exercising twice a day is necessarily illegal in Wales. It does mean that if the matter were ever to go to court it would be for you to prove that you had a “reasonable excuse” for doing so. Perhaps if your intended run was curtailed after 5 minutes because you forgot your phone, then you might have a reasonable excuse to go back home and start again. But I expect others can think up more imaginative reasonable excuses.

The English, Scottish and Northern Irish regulations contain no such restriction, despite the Prime Minister’s initial broadcast announcement that exercise was to be permitted only once a day. However, the Prime Minister does not make law by ministerial broadcast.

But although there is no “once a day” rule in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you must still “need” to exercise in order to leave home legally under the exercise exemption. If you have no “need” to exercise, a zealous police officer, of whom there seem to be a great many, could still ticket you for breaching the rules.

What is a “need” to exercise though? Oh sorry, I’m meant to be answering the questions, not asking them.

You’ve got me confused now. I live in Wales, can I exercise more than once a day? Yes or no?

Oh alright then. No.

What about England? Can I exercise more than once a day?

Yes, but …

I don’t want to hear any buts. Yes or no?



I’m not a Scottish lawyer but …

Oh for crying out loud, how difficult is it to give a straight answer?


Thank you. Northern Ireland?


How about the Isle of Man?

I’m not a Manx lawyer, but …

Come on, just answer the question.

Yes, but …

I don’t want any buts.

This one is quite interesting.

OK, what’s the “but” about the Isle of Man?

In the Isle of Man you can exercise as much as you like, but it has to be just “one form of exercise.”

I’m sorry?

In the Isle of Man you can leave your home to exercise as much as you like but you must only undertake “one form of exercise per day.” Paragraph 5 (1) (c) of the Emergency Powers (Prohibitions on Movement) Regulations 2020

What does that mean?

You have to choose. Running. Walking. Bicycling. Gymnastics. Rock-climbing. You can do any one of them as much as you like and as many times as you like, but you have to choose which one and stick with it for that day. You can try a different form the next day if you like.

How many forms of exercise may I undertake in a week in the Isle of Man?

Seven. But not all on the same day. And don’t say “that’s not reasonable,” there is no exemption for leaving the house with a “reasonable excuse” in Manx law.

How can I go rock-climbing unless I can walk to the rocks?

You can go by motorbike. The Isle of Man is good for motorbikes and criss-crossed by roads. The rules say you can leave home “in order to undertake one form of exercise per day,” so I imagine biking to the rock face would be permitted. Just don’t try walking or running there. Anyway, we’re getting diverted.

No, no, this is really interesting stuff. Isn’t riding a motorbike at 120 MPH round a twisty mountain road a form of exercise?

I suppose it could be, yes. But maybe not if you just rode the bike very slowly and cautiously.

How about Jersey?

Ah, Jersey. The rules say you can’t go into any public place at all until 8 a.m. on 13th April, unless you’re an authorised officer, or travelling to your place of work, or if you’re under a legal obligation to go somewhere.

So in Jersey I can’t exercise outside at all?

You can if you have a reasonable excuse.

What is a reasonable excuse?

I’m not a Jersey lawyer, but my hunch is that it means an excuse that is reasonable.

Is exercise deemed a reasonable excuse?

No, it’s not deemed to be a reasonable excuse in Jersey, but it’s not deemed unreasonable either. It all depends.

So can I exercise in Jersey?

Jersey law is silent on the point. Consult a local lawyer.

What about Guernsey?

There is a lockdown of sorts, but the Island’s Chief Minister has admitted that even he doesn’t understand it:

We have no rule book or precedents. There will be difficult judgments and nobody said it would be easy … and there simply has not been time in many cases to deliver fully fleshed out measures that covers every circumstance.”

At least he sounds honest. What about Sark?

All I know about Sark law is that it has the world’s smallest prison.

Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

21 thoughts on “Those British Isles lockdown questions answered”

  1. Greetings from the Isle of Man, and thanks for the splendid explanation of our laws. However, just to correct you on one point – presently, as part of an exercice regime you will not be able to ride your motor bike around our world-famous TT course at 120mph: an Island wide 40mph speed limit has been introduced for the duration!! (With the perfectly reasonable objective of reducing RTAs and thereby taking pressure from hospital resources.)

      1. It was meant, and hopefully accepted, as a humorous riposte! Your article was really fascinating and informative!

    1. Very interesting! Is my Border Collie a ‘member of my household’? He needs lots of exercise but needs me to accompany him (obviously!). I am trying to stick to the spirit of the law as well as the words but live in a rural area and could easily walk him a couple of times a day without coming near people. I also cycle but that’s presently on hold as currently my exercise is one dog walk per day.

      1. It depends where you live David. If you’re in Wales it’s one walk a day. If you’re in England or Scotland you’re not similarly restricted, and you can probably cycle too. If you’re in the Isle of Man you can walk as much as you like as long as you don’t cycle too.

  2. Jersey law is likely to vary depending which parish you are exercising in (this being the island with 13 police forces and unseparated powers). Although… the chief minister explicitly mentioned sea swimming as a sanctioned form of exercise, and some of us live two or three miles from the nearest coastline.

  3. Which reasonable excuse do you think Stephen Kinnock could invoke for having gone to visit his over 70 parents in Wales? Would birthday greetings count?

  4. Oh…a further thought…your article prompted me to check the source wording (thanks). For England the Act says that a reasonable excuse “includes the need…” followed by the list you provide.

    So presumably the use of the word “includes” does not mean that the list is comprehensive and thus a person may be able to argue some other need to leave their home that is not in the list????

  5. Presumably I could go for a run, a bike ride and a swim, and claim that my triathlon activity was a single form of exercise?

  6. Some 120 tenants in a Tower block are being forced to stay in their flats by Camden Council, we are being bombarded with the most horrific drilling and hammering noises. Despite requests to the Leader of the council and Keir Starmer that this should be stopped they ignore requests and allow this. Is there anyway we can prevent this, it is cause of stress that contributes to irregular heart beat, stroke and heat attack. The building has children and vulnerable tenants, yesterday we had a continues hour of this drilling that drove us to unnatural behaviour of anger and annoyance. The council ignore us, is there anything we can do, it is horrendous living under these conditions with a council that show nothing but contempt towards us. The council have made no provision for escapement to a quiet area until the last minute and then find we can not group due to Covid19. The works should be stopped.

  7. One of the examples of a reasonable excuse seems troubling:

    “(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;”

    An employee may be of the belief that it would be reasonably possible for them to work from home, but be told by their employer that they have to attend their place of work or face repercussions, whether that be disciplinary action or sacking. As written, it seems open for a court to find that it was, in fact, reasonably possible for the employee to work from home, therefore making the employee liable for the poor judgement of their employer.

  8. I reside in Wales. Due to physical constraints I can only walk on a level surface. My home is at the top of a steep hill. Is there any reason why I should not be able to drive to a nearby suitable area for exercise purposes?

  9. “That does not mean that exercising twice a day is necessarily illegal in Wales. It does mean that if the matter were ever to go to court it would be for you to prove that you had a “reasonable excuse” for doing so.”

    Not convinced of this, the regulations seem to lack the necessary wording to reverse the burden of proof

    e.g the Scottish Regulations note 8(4):

    “Offences and penalties
    8.—(1) A person who contravenes a requirement in regulation 3 to 7 commits an offence.

    (2) A person who obstructs any person carrying out a function under these Regulations commits an offence.

    (3) A person who contravenes a direction given under regulation 7, or fails to comply with a reasonable instruction or a prohibition notice given by a relevant person under regulation 7, commits an offence.

    (4) It is a defence to a charge of committing an offence under paragraph (1), (2) or (3) to show that the person, in the circumstances, had a reasonable excuse”

    Look at another English Law where the burden of proof is reversed CJA 1988 Sect 139 (4)
    “139 Offence of having article with blade or point in public place.E+W
    (1)Subject to subsections (4) and (5) below, any person who has an article to which this section applies with him in a public place shall be guilty of an offence.
    (2)Subject to subsection (3) below, this section applies to any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocketknife.
    (3)This section applies to a folding pocketknife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 3 inches.
    (4)It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place.”

    In the E+W corona virus restrictions… Nothing…

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