Liberty condemns renewal of Coronavirus Act

Posted on 30 Sep 2020

  • Coronavirus Act created dangerous powers, threatens rights and abandons marginalised, says Liberty
  • Government wins vote despite growing disquiet at the overbearing nature of the Act
  • More than 60,000 people have called for the Act to scrapped
  • Parliamentary oversight granted represents bare minimum of democratic accountability

Liberty has condemned today’s renewal of the Coronavirus Act, highlighting the continued threat this legislation poses to civil liberties and fundamental rights.

The legislation, passed by Parliament at the end of March, created an array of new powers which Liberty, the UK’s leading human rights organisation, condemned as the biggest threat to human rights in a generation.

Liberty has been campaigning for its repeal and thousands of Liberty’s members and supporters joined the call for the Coronavirus Act to be repealed and replaced with a response to this pandemic that does not undermine fundamental rights.

More than 40,000 people have signed Liberty’s petition to scrap the Act and, in less than a week after the vote to renew the Act was tabled, more than 20,000 used Liberty’s tool to write to their MPs to appeal for them not to renew the legislation.

Liberty’s chief concern has been that the Government has adopted a criminal justice response to a public health crisis. This has left people in Britain subject to broad and disproportionate police powers amid confusing and conflicting communications about changes to regulations.

In the final hours approaching the vote, the Government struck a deal with backbench MPs who were planning to vote for the Act to be repealed, promising Parliamentary consultation over major lockdown regulations in the future. Liberty welcomed this concession, but said that it is the bare minimum that the public should be able to expect from a democratic Government.

Liberty Director Martha Spurrier said: “The renewal of the Coronavirus Act is a failure of courage and imagination from a Government that has prioritised criminal justice over public health. It has failed the most marginalised in a pandemic response characterised by confusion, coercion and cruelty.

“The Parliamentary oversight they conceded should be the bare minimum MPs and their constituents can expect from a democratic Government. The way Parliament has been consistently and unnecessarily side-lined throughout this crisis sets a dangerous precedent and must not become the new normal as the Government desires.

“In recent weeks the Government has shown its disdain for laws that protect us all equally, and its determination to undermine our rights. The Coronavirus Act is a deliberate attempt to normalise coercive and abusive power. It is not the Government and its supporters who will suffer from this blunt and regressive legislation, but society’s most marginalised.

“This chance to create a public health response that protects our rights has been missed, but we will fight to ensure the rights of all of us are protected now and in the future.”

The decision to renew the Act is a rejection of public opinion and expert advice from across the charity sector, Liberty says.

On 27 September, a broad coalition of charities united with human rights groups to demand that Parliament scraps the Coronavirus Act this week. This followed 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.

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