Posted on 27 Sep 2020

  • Dramatic late intervention from across charity sector
  • Government faces rebellion over sweeping emergency legislation
  • Liberty warns renewing Act would consolidate “power grab”

A broad coalition of charities and community based organisations have united with human rights groups to demand that Parliament scraps the Coronavirus Act this week.

Groups representing diverse causes ranging from civil liberties to disability rights, race equality, migrants’ rights, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller advocacy, mental health, policing and homelessness have signed a joint statement calling on Parliament to “focus on a response to the pandemic which protects everyone’s human rights and keeps civil liberties intact”.

They are not alone, with 76 per cent of people in a recent poll saying that human rights should be protected during national crisis and 66 per cent saying everyone should be able to access state support.

Parliament is due to decide on Wednesday (30 September) whether to repeal or renew the Coronavirus Act. Liberty, the UK’s largest human rights and civil liberties membership organisation has called the Act “a lasting threat to our human rights as long as it remains on the statute books”.

The civil liberties group has been campaigning for the Act to be scrapped since it was passed in March. Not only has it created an unprecedented reimagining of State powers, it has also watered down laws that protect our human rights.

Liberty Director Martha Spurrier said: “MPs had barely any time to scrutinise the Coronavirus Act when it was introduced. They’ve had six months to watch the failure of using a criminal justice response to a public health crisis and the cruelty of how the Act abandons the most marginalised when their rights need to be upheld.

“The Act epitomises the Government’s determination to prioritise criminal justice over public health, and its disregard for our rights. Renewing the Act now would consolidate this power grab, putting our rights at even greater risk in the long term.

“It is time for Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and create a strategy that protects our rights, as well as our health.”

The Act was ushered through Parliament in less than a day, as the Prime Minister announced the national lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus. The sweeping 329 pages of legislation created dramatic powers to detain any person who might be infectious, to close borders and postpone elections and to suspend human rights safeguards in a range of settings, from our surveillance regime to care homes.

It also left behind many of the most vulnerable, Liberty says, and did nothing to alleviate the dangerous barriers to accessing care caused by the Government’s Hostile Environment policy.

The joint statement represents a dramatic late intervention from organisations across the charity sector, as the deadline for MPs to repeal the Act approaches this week.

An extract from the joint statement, signed by 22 organisations, reads:

“In times of crisis governments can either tap into public spirit and connect communities or increase state powers and use coercive methods that foster ill-will and blame.  Faced with this choice, the Government opted for a criminal justice response to a public health crisis, prioritising immigration control over saving lives, and rushing through an Act of Parliament that strips away our rights.”

The signatories include:


Another Night of Sisterhood (ANOS)

Big Brother Watch

Black Lives Matter UK

Black Protest Legal Support UK (BPLS)

British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR)

Centre for Mental Health


Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)


London Campaign Against Police and State Violence


Museum of Homelessness

National Survivor User Network


Northern Police Monitoring Project (NPMP)


Rights and Security International

Runnymede Trust

Streets Kitchen


The Traveller Movement

Contact the Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 / 07973 831 128 or

Notes to Editors:

1. The full statement is available here

2. Public attitudes polling conducted by NfP Synergy on behalf of Liberty at the end of July found:

  • 76 per cent of respondents say human rights should be protected during national crisis; 66 per cent say everyone should be able to access state support.
  • 73 per cent of respondents were concerned about homeless people being fined during lockdown; 58 per cent were concerned about heavy-handed policing during lockdown.
  • 64 per cent were concerned about Government data collection. Only 38 per cent said they trust Government and private companies with medical data.

3. Every charge made under the Coronavirus Act has been found by the Criminal Prosecution Service to be wrong, and lockdown enforcement powers that accompanied the Act have led to discrimination. Figures revealed by Liberty’s investigative journalism unit Liberty Investigates found that under these powers, people of colour are up to seven times more likely to be fined than white people.

4. Since the lockdown started Liberty has produced a range of Know Your Rights guides to help the public understand the new laws and regulations and feel empowered to uphold their rights.

5. Liberty has also produced resources for those protesting during the pandemic that were distributed at Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country and produced thousands of specific guides for homeless people at risk of criminalisation because of lockdown.

6. Liberty, which is the UK’s largest civil liberties membership organisation, has also lowered its membership fee to £1 given the existential threat to civil liberties posed by the Coronavirus Act.

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