Human rights groups urge government to scrap 'dangerous' Covid-19 laws

3 July 2020, 19:09

Human rights campaigners have called on ministers to scrap “dangerous” coronavirus laws
Human rights campaigners have called on ministers to scrap “dangerous” coronavirus laws. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Human rights campaigners have stepped up calls on ministers to scrap “dangerous” coronavirus laws that “threaten basic civil rights.”

Liberty, the civil liberties group, issued the demand as the country reached 100 days since the Coronavirus Act was made law on 25 March.

It comes after 13 human rights groups, backed by MPs, wrote to police chiefs earlier this week demanding a review of the “inconsistent and discriminatory” enforcement of “draconian” Covid-19 legislation.

The laws give police officers the power to remove or detain a “potentially infectious person” to a place suitable for screening and assessment, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 to refuse a direction, escape or provide false information.

Earlier this month, it emerged people were still being wrongfully prosecuted and convicted in courts under the emergency rules brought in as the pandemic took hold in the UK.

This is despite all 44 charges brought under the Coronavirus Act up to mid-May being incorrect. More cases are under review.

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Campaigners warn this allows authorities to “forcibly test, question and isolate people indefinitely – with criminal sanctions if they don’t comply.”

Rights to vote, protest and travel have also been wrongly and unfairly curtailed under the laws, according to the campaigners.

Liberty has also raised concerns about a clause in the law which could strip away protections for those who rely on social care, including disabled people and those with mental health issues, by allowing councils to cut back on services if they are buckling under the strain of the pandemic.

Parliament can review the Act six months after it came into force, which will be in September, but the legislation could be in place for two years if renewed.

Liberty director Martha Spurrier branded it “dangerous legislation that should never have been passed – and it must now be repealed”.

“Emergency measures are still in force, meaning police still have dangerously sweeping powers, mental health and social care safeguards can be suspended, and our protest rights are under threat,” she added.

“Times of crisis always create the conditions for our rights to be swept away – we must now demand them back.”

Big Brother Watch, which monitors policing tactics, wrote to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on Wednesday claiming to evidence “racism, discrimination and bias” in how the laws have been applied, effectively making it a “postcode lottery”.

The group cites research by Liberty, which suggests 18 out of the 25 forces who supplied ethnicity data found statistically significant differences between fines issued to black and minority ethnic people, and white people.

The NPCC is set to publish data next month from all 43 constabularies in England and Wales on the ethnicity of those fined for breaching lockdown rules.