GOVERNMENT TOLD TO RELEASE COVID DOCUMENTS AFTER LIBERTY TRANSPARENCY BATTLE
Posted on 12 Nov 2021
- Regulator orders Government to publish key Covid law documents
- Government must show it followed equality laws
- Transparency victory comes as Government faces criticism for evading scrutiny
Liberty secured a victory for transparency and accountability as regulators told the Government it must disclose key documents related to the Coronavirus Act and lockdown regulations imposed during the pandemic.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which oversees compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, has written to the Government saying it must release documents requested by Liberty, 15 months after the Government refused to release them.
In June 2020, following the first coronavirus lockdown, Liberty requested evidence that the Government had complied with its legal duty under the Equality Act when creating the Coronavirus Act and numerous regulations under the Public Health Act.
The sweeping powers in the Coronavirus Act included authority for councils to relax care standards, the police to detain anyone “potentially infectious”, for the Government to delay elections and relax surveillance safeguards, among a range of other measures. It passed through Parliament in a few days, without time for the usual debate and scrutiny.
The powers that police used to enforce the lockdown were created using emergency regulations in the Public Health Act. Many were not debated by MPs and the police powers were used disproportionately against people of colour, as revealed by Liberty’s investigative journalism unit, Liberty Investigates.
When Liberty filed a request to see the Government’s own assessment of the potential impact of these regulations, the Government argued that it was not in the public interest to release the documents. Liberty argued that it is clearly in the public interest to know if the Government is following equality laws and took a complaint to the ICO, which agreed that the assessments must be released. The regulator has given the Government 35 days to comply with Liberty’s request.
Liberty’s Head of Policy and Campaigns Sam Grant said: “It is critical that we can all trust the Government to respect our rights and follow the law – especially at times of crisis, when it is so easy for our rights to be swept away. But this Government has shown time and time again that it will do anything to evade scrutiny and undermine accountability.
“Throughout the pandemic, this Government consistently prioritised coercion and punishment over support. It relaxed care standards, and created police powers that increased the discriminatory and dangerous policing faced particularly by people of colour. It side-lined our elected MPs by using emergency powers, even when it had months to prepare and ensure proper scrutiny was applied.
“Arguing that it was against the public interest to release what it knew about these powers is an insult to all of us affected by them. It is high time the Government accepted that – despite its own conduct – it is not above the law, and must not become untouchable.”
Liberty campaigned against the Coronavirus Act, which created some of the most broad and dangerous state powers seen in a generation, until the most dangerous powers were repealed last month.
The Government has threatened and undermined the Freedom of Information Act and its latest attempt to block scrutiny of its use of power is just the latest in a long-running campaign to undermine accountability and make itself untouchable.
Contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors:
1. The ICO decision notice is available upon request.
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