The government’s approach to the coronavirus is creating risks for the rule of law, politicians have warned in a report looking at the human rights implications of Covid-19.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by solicitor-MP Harriet Harman, said the amount of legislation coming into force before it has been laid in parliament is now high in volume and becoming routine.
Today’s report outlines that the government has written to the Commons speaker at least 25 times since March to explain why legislation has come into force before it has been laid in parliament. ‘The increased use of such an approach creates risks for the rule of law and the separation of powers,’ the committee said.
A parliamentary debate on the Coronavirus Act must take place before 3 October.
Highlighting a worrying lack of parliamentary scrutiny so far, today’s report says 97 of the 130 coronavirus-related statutory instruments laid before parliament breached a 21-day convention designed to enable proper scrutiny.
The report says emergency procedures for passing laws should be exceptional and should require explicit justification, especially when human rights are at stake.
Harman said: ‘Parliament and the public must be kept appropriately and promptly informed about changes in policy, especially when the human rights of so many are affected in such a wide variety of ways. This is an unprecedented and uncertain time for everyone, and the government must act in a justifiable, fair and proportionate way.’
Over the weekend the government announced that, from next week, people will be required by law to self-isolate or face fines starting at £1,000, increasing to £10,000.
The government’s chief medical and scientific advisers today warned that there could be 49,000 new coronavirus cases by mid-October unless further action is taken. The government is expected to make a statement to the Commons tomorrow after the prime minister chairs an emergency COBRA meeting in the morning.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.