The pressure facing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lock down the country even further is escalating as people in the UK have continued to ignore orders to maintain social distancing. Now that an Italy-style lockdown seems increasingly likely, questions of how these strict and unprecedented measures will affect our human rights and freedoms are troubling many. While the consensus is that lives must be saved whatever the cost, there are those who believe the end does not always justify the means.
Last week MPs voiced their concern that measures such as self-isolation and bans on public gatherings will infringe upon our right to liberty and freedom of assembly respectively, the right to justice will be restricted due to trials being postponed or conducted via video-link, and banning funeral ceremonies will violate the freedom of religion. Some groups will inevitably be affected more than others, as restricting people’s ability to work will have a much bigger effect on small businesses and the self-employed.
The Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has responded that it would monitor the situation closely to ensure that all measures imposed and action taken comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the government’s response to the pandemic is proportionate to the threat that it poses. According to Human Rights law, any actions taken in response to a threat to the life of a nation are justified “as long as they are proportionate, non-discriminatory, of a limited duration or backed by scientific evidence”. The government also has the power to derogate from the European Convention in case of a public emergency, as well as from extensive rights under the Public Health Act 1984 and the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004.
On 19 March the Human Rights Watch, a group which monitors and reports on any abuse happening around the globe, published a document entitled Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response. It provides an overview of human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak and recommends ways governments and other actors can respect human rights in their response. It addresses such topics as applicable international standards, human rights concerns, protection of freedom of expression and ensuring access to critical information, and ensuring quarantines, lockdowns, and travel bans comply with rights norms, along with many others.
We can therefore rest assured that although we don’t necessarily know what the next 24 hours may bring in terms of further restrictive measures, there are groups and committees working to protect our rights and freedoms to the extent that this unprecedented situation allows. As for the government, the decision to paralyse the country is definitely not one they are taking lightly.
Here at Gherson, we are following all the developments relating to the coronavirus emergency closely, especially with regards to its impact on UK immigration matters. Please do keep updated with our further blogs and bulletins on this site.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.