Coronavirus and human rights

Commuters shown from above, walking

COVID-19 requires extraordinary response from government at all levels, as well as from the population.
Parliaments at both Westminster and Holyrood will therefore consider emergency legislation. The Westminster Bill is vast – 329 pages in total – and includes a very wide range of powers, such as to:

  • allow people to be detained and enforce testing for infectious disease,
  • restrict public events and gatherings
  • impose travel restrictions
  • postpone any upcoming by-elections
  • close ports and airports,
  • lessen regulations around the assessment of need of, for example, disabled and looked-after children
  • reduce regulation to allow for those not-yet-fully trained to be recruited into the social work and health service.

Read BBC summary of the Bill here.
The measures will be fast-tracked through Parliament and MPs are set to “nod them” through. The Scottish Government has recommended that the Scottish Parliament gives its legislative consent to the Bill, due to be debated at Holyrood on 24th March. They will also bring forward a Bill specific to devolved matters shortly.

Human rights concerns include:

  • How long will these measures be used without MP scrutiny? The current Bill allows them to be used for up to 2 years – however, public announcements suggest that the Government will accept that this timescale is amended to include a 6 month review.
  • Given the very broad extension of government and police powers, that there must be explicit mention of the human rights principles of proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination in the Bill
  • The change in assessment of need and prioritising for those with care needs
  • That all measures impacting on the right to health of immigrants be immediately addressed -the Bill currently does not have mention of these. Immigration detention should be ended, and immigrants need full access to healthcare and welfare benefits with a suspension of ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition.
  • The particular impacts on those who experience domestic violence need to be addressed, as well as those who are homeless and destitute 

Read some responses from civil society to the Bill and response to the corona virus in general:

Read comment from:

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has announced that they will scrutinise the government tackling of the corona virus carefully. They have produced a briefing outlining some of the key human rights issues raised, and the current legislative framework. They are asking for written evidence by 22 July 2020.

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