Key questions for Government on response to coronavirus crisis

Posted on 28 Apr 2020

The Home Secretary will give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 29 April. This is a chance for Parliament to scrutinise the Government’s response to coronavirus. Liberty has written to the Chair of the Committee, Yvette Cooper, outlining two areas of the Government’s response to coronavirus that require particular scrutiny: policing and migrants’ rights.

Dear Yvette Cooper

We are pleased to hear that the Home Secretary will give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee (the Committee) on Wednesday 29th April. This is an important opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s response to the unprecedented public health emergency we face.

Over the last month the Government has established sweeping new powers with limited Parliamentary review. Robust scrutiny is now critical to assess the impact of those powers, hold the Government to account and ensure that fairness, equality and public health are at the heart of our response to the pandemic. To assist the Committee, I outline below two areas under the Home Secretary’s remit which, in Liberty’s view, warrant particularly searching scrutiny.


The police have been granted expansive powers to enforce restrictions on people leaving home without a reasonable excuse and to detain people they deem are “potentially infectious” for testing. These powers are incredibly broadly drawn and open to arbitrary use. This risk is evidenced by widespread reports of police misuse of the powers, which harms those involved and undermines public trust in the authorities. Liberty is also concerned that the powers may have a particularly detrimental impact if you are homeless, if you are in an abusive home, if you are disabled, if you are a person of colour or you live in a low-income neighbourhood.

The law which established police powers to enforce restrictions on leaving home requires the Secretary of State for Health to review them every three weeks. The next review must be carried out by Thursday 7th May 2020.

Liberty invites the Committee to ask the Home Secretary whether, and to what extent, the human rights and equality implications of the Coronavirus Regulations will be formally considered as part of the upcoming review of the powers?

Migrants’ Rights

The Government has refused to suspend the hostile environment during this pandemic. While the Home Office stated that everyone is entitled to treatment for coronavirus free of charge regardless of your immigration status, data sharing between NHS Trusts and the Home Office continues. This means that where someone tries to access healthcare, their personal details may be sent to the Home Office. Liberty believes that many people will still be too afraid to seek medical care amid a public health crisis.

Liberty is also concerned for those currently held in immigration detention. The Government has not produced an adequate plan for these centres, where it is almost impossible to socially distance. Hundreds continue to be held indefinitely in these centres, despite detention only being lawful if there is a prospect of imminent removal from the country, which is unlikely given the current circumstances.

Liberty invites the Committee to ask the Home Secretary what assessment has been conducted on the impact of the continuation of the hostile environment on public health?

Should you require any further information please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Martha Spurrier

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