5 bits of 'rule of six' small print as it becomes illegal to 'mingle' in the pub


It's now illegal - with a few exceptions - to gather indoors or outdoors in a group of more than six people in England.

Police can hand people £100 fines under the law - which aims to curb a frightening surge in coronavirus cases.

But the law itself was only published 15 minutes before it took effect at midnight - and some of the small print is raising eyebrows.

The law will make it illegal to "mingle" with other groups in the pub, forcing police to define what mingling means.

And there look set to be exemptions for "significant" life events like baptisms, as well as hunts and shoots, which could leave it open to confusion.

Boris Johnson was forced to simplify the law - but it's not entirely simple (Image: Getty Images)

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, of Doughty Street Chambers, told the Mirror the law has expanded like “barnacles on the bottom of a boat” - and left a few holes behind.

“Everything in the law I understand why it’s there, but laws like this are like big waves," he said. "When they crash against reality they can look very different.”

He added: “I imagine they will be avoiding enforcement as much as they can. Are they going to walk around with five pages of exceptions? Are they going to really be able to understand these sufficiently to enforce them?"

We've taken a look at some of the more bizarre bits of small print in the new law - and how they hit you.

1. It's now illegal to 'mingle' in the pub

How are police going to interpret when people are 'mingling'? (Image: Getty Images)

You can still go to venues like pubs, cafes and restaurants as well as charitable events, as long as you go in a group of six people or fewer.

But it is now officially illegal to "mingle" - yes, that's the actual wording - with other groups who turn up.

That means if you see some mates across the other side of the beer garden, it is illegal to go over and talk to them.

The exact wording is you must not "become a member of any other group of persons" at the venue, or "otherwise mingle with any person who is participating in the gathering but is not a member of the same qualifying group."

But legal experts warn the law is fuzzy - as they believe it's the first time the word "mingle" has been used in this way.

Mr Wagner told us: "It’s a matter of degree - what does it mean? I think it means something different to gathering - maybe it means to have a chat, and what does it mean to have a chat?

"People shouldn't be prosecuted on unclear terms like that - it’s not good at all."

Asked how police will decide if people are "mingling", a No10 spokesman said: "Police are used to using their discretion in upholding the law and I’m sure that’s what they’ll do in this case.

"It’s clear a gathering in a group of more than six is not permitted."

2. And you can't appeal the £100 fine

People enjoying the sunshine just before the rules came into effect today (Image: Getty Images)

Police have the power to hand out a £100 Fixed Penalty Notice to any adult who they "reasonably believe" has broken the rules.

And barrister Mr Wagner warned: "It’s not like a parking fine. These are non-appealable fines.

"The only way you can avoid them is by refusing to pay them and being taken to court. But then you risk a criminal record."

By paying the £100 fine, you guarantee you will not get a criminal record. But if you take the risk to contest it in court, and you're then found guilty, you could receive a much higher fine and a criminal conviction.

Mr Wagner says that could lead to some big problems if it conflicts with a badly-written part of the law.

"To give out a fine police don’t have to prove you ‘mingled’, they only have to believe you did," he said. “That is a really tricky area of law which is totally untested in all legal history as far as I understand it."

3. Toffs can go on a Boxing Day hunt - but you can't have a Christmas Day family meal

It seems outdoor activities will be allowed - even though Christmas Day meals may be off (Image: PA)

People will likely be able to go hunting and shooting in groups of more than six, it has emerged.

The law allows a specific exemption for "outdoor activity" which needs a licence, permit or certificate issued by a public body.

Even if an activity doesn't come under this exemption, hunts may be able to justify themselves because organised "sports gatherings" are allowed too.

To be exempt, any of the above gatherings must have a formal risk assessment and have taken "all reasonable measures" to stop coronavirus being spread.

Yet family Christmases of more than six people - unless they already live in the same household or bubble - will not be allowed if the rules are still in place by then.

No10 emphasised it's not a done deal that the rules will still be in place by Christmas. But couldn't rule it out.

According to HuffPost UK, the thorny issue led to the regulations being delayed after a meeting on an "exemption: hunting and shooting" was scheduled for the Cabinet Office's coronavirus operations committee, but cancelled at the last moment.

4. You can still hold a gathering of 30 - if it's a 'significant event'

It comes after Boris Johnson held a top-secret christening for son Wilfred (Image: Instagram)

Another clause allows people to hold a 'significant event gathering' of up to 30 people, aside from weddings or funerals (which are also allowed).

This is defined as an event "to mark or celebrate a significant milestone in a person’s life, according to their religion or belief" - or lack of belief.

It can include "events to celebrate a rite of passage or entry into a particular faith or coming of age".

Or an event to mark a person’s death or celebrate their life following their death. 

The event can have up to 30 people and must take place at either a public outdoor space like a park, or a premises run by a firm, charitable, benevolent or public body. It can't take place at a private home.

It explicitly DOESN'T include birthday parties - but Mr Wagner said the section is “really widely and badly drafted”.

“It opens it up to any number of interpretations," the barrister told the Mirror.

"Put it this way, I wouldn’t like to be in police’s position of having to enforce these laws as it’s just almost impossible.”

He added: “Are people going to be calling Christmas parties significant life events? I think that the regulations has been drafted to exclude them.”

It comes after Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds reportedly held a top-secret christening for their son Wilfred.

5. Only over-18s can be given £100 fines

This gathering in Primrose Hill, London, yesterday will be the exact legal limit (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

The main way of enforcing the rules is to give out £100 Fixed Penalty Notices - but they can only go to over-18s.

That suggests it will be more difficult for police to break up a rowdy group of 17-year-olds than 19-year-olds.

That's despite the fact children - no matter how young, even if they're babies - count towards the six-person limit.

There are of course some powers to enforce the law against teenagers. Police can "direct" parents and carers to "secure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the child complies with that restriction."

But as far as we can tell, there is no explicit mention in the law of giving parents £100 fines if their kids defy the law.