Mask wearing, personal responsibility, and the law

Delta variant concerns have resulted in all four UK nations delaying further easing Covid restrictions, but, considering where we were a few months ago, it is clear that we are slowly emerging from lockdown and life returning to (close to) normal is at least in sight. With the number of UK vaccinations to date exceeding 70 million, many people believe that the Covid crisis is all but over, and some are wondering how much longer we will need to wear masks. There are those who want that time to be now.


However, official guidelines still recommend mask wearing and social distancing.


So, if you do decide not to continue with mask wearing, and you contract Covid and pass it on to someone else, can you be held legally liable?


As we have yet to experience such a case, the law will be vague over this issue. Additionally, there will be difficulties similar to trying to ascertain how someone contracted a common cold. However, the difference regarding Covid and mask wearing 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, could you be held liable in law?


The simple answer is probably no. There is no law making it mandatory to wear masks; the Government has merely issued a guideline in order to keep people as safe as possible. Wearing a mask is the responsible thing to do, but not wearing one will definitely not be a crime (an offence against the State).


But could it be a civil wrong? Could a case be brought against an individual whose action (not wearing a mask) caused another individual injury or damage (Covid)? The answer to that is, maybe. And winning such an action gives rise to the automatic remedy of damages (compensation). The amount of damages, depends on the injuries and loss suffered.


Another thing to be considered is the burden of proof. The evidence that a claimant needs to produce to prove their case has 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). Whereas the burden of proof in a criminal action is that the prosecution must prove their case ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’.


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 a second dose
  • 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.


Not forgetting that in certain parts of the world infections and deaths are rising at an alarming rate, and vaccination rates in many countries are comparatively low.


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.


However, if you do run into Covid-related legal difficulties, 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.



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).



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