Liberty launches rights-respecting COVID Bill
Posted on 25 Feb 2021
- Liberty drafts new law to address civil rights crisis caused by COVID
- MPs urged to back Liberty’s Bill and vote down current COVID powers
- Alternative to Coronavirus Act prioritises support over punishment
Liberty is today publishing new draft legislation to counter the dangerous Coronavirus Act, due for renewal in the coming weeks.
The civil liberties and equalities charity created its own draft pandemic laws in consultation with charities and grassroots campaign groups.
The Coronavirus (Rights and Support) Bill 2021 rejects the draconian approach that Government adopted at the outset of the pandemic, and instead prioritises support and public health, so everyone is protected for the remainder of the pandemic.
The legislation covers 10 different areas, including policing, protections for protest rights, social care, housing, immigration and employment. The Bill, which runs to more than 80 pages, has been drafted and scrutinised by expert barristers.
It includes 35 policy recommendations. Summary headlines include:
- Reduction in police powers – priority will be to support everyone to follow clear and consistent public health guidance.
- Ending the hostile environment – everyone in the UK can access frontline services without fear of deportation.
- Safeguard disabled people and older people – the Bill will scrap the parts of the Coronavirus Act that allow local councils to strip back social care provision.
- Workers’ rights protections – including full sick pay and other support for isolating workers.
- Housing support – including an eviction ban and safe accommodation for homeless people.
In the face of the pandemic and the significant risk to life MPs passed the Coronavirus Act on 25 March 2020. The legislation was – and continues to be – an unprecedented assault on civil liberties. It dramatically changes the relationship between individual rights and the State in a variety of ways, from increasing police powers to weakening vital safeguards in social care, as well as opening the door to mass data surveillance.
A year on, the justification for the Act’s blunt, rushed, and exceptional powers is increasingly hard to reconcile. Yet it could be renewed and is due to be debated and voted on in March 2021.
Liberty and a broad coalition of human rights groups and campaign organisations have been calling for the Act to be repealed and the Government to provide a strategy that protects our rights, as well as our health. With no alternative, MPs renewed the Act in September 2020.
Liberty is now yet again calling on MPs to reject it and has drafted its own legislation so MPs can vote on an alternative and chart a new course out of the pandemic.
More than 19 expert organisations provided advice and consultation in drafting the Protect Everyone Bill, and dozens have said they will support it.
Liberty’s Director Gracie Bradley said: “We reject the politics of division and criminalisation and call for a new approach that bridges the divides in society. A pandemic response that fails some of us, fails all of us.
“The pandemic has shown how much we rely on each other – yet politicians in charge responded to this pandemic with a strategy that created distrust and favoured punishing people instead of providing support. Those in power have failed to understand that to get through coronavirus, we need to pull together and create strategies that protect everyone. A year into this crisis, we’re tired of waiting for alternatives, so we’ve come up with one ourselves.
“The Coronavirus Act created the biggest threat to civil liberties in a generation, and its renewal last year was the act of a Parliament doubling down on the wrong approach.
“If Ministers vote through this failed approach again, they are doing so knowing more of the most marginalised people will be left behind, and everyone’s freedoms will be on the line, due to people in power refusing to learn from their mistakes. We demand a better way forward – one that provides support for everyone and upholds our rights and freedoms.”
Contact the Liberty press office for the full legal draft and for spokespeople. Due to remote working it’s best to call 07973 831 128 AND email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors:
- The organisations consulted on drafting the Bill include:
- The Alliance for Inclusive Education
- Bail for Immigration Detainees
- Black Protest Legal Support
- Focus on Labour Exploitation
- Friends, Families, and Travellers
- Inclusion London
- Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
- Latin American Women’s Rights Service
- Legal Sector Workers United
- The No Accommodation Network
- Open Rights Group
- Project 17
- Transform Justice
- The Traveller Movement
- Women in Prisons
- Women’s Aid
- Barristers who provided support drafting include Ayesha Christie, Daniel Clarke, Alice Irving, Una Morris, Nathan Roberts, and Sarah Sackman
- Among a wide range of support measures, and a roll-back of heavy-handed tactics, the Bill includes:
- Policing: roll back the newly created police powers and instead prioritise supporting people to follow clear and consistent public health guidance.
- Protections for protest, the Bill will explicitly protect safe, socially distanced protests and protest rights – vital in times of crisis.
- Immigration: a complete suspension of the Hostile Environment, no deportations and the release of all those held in immigration centres.
- Health and social care: including scrapping legislation that weakened support for disabled people during the pandemic.
- Data protection assurances, including a firewall between immigration and law enforcement.
- Prisons: immediately lower the prison population and ensure people released are supported.
- Housing: no evictions, safe accommodation for homeless people, and support for Gypsy and Traveller communities.
- Education: money to support families for Free School Meals, rights assessments before school closures, guidance on remote education.
- Workers’ rights: full sick pay and other support for isolating workers, guaranteed minimum earnings and safety assurances.
- Social welfare: quicker access to Universal Credit and an increase in other benefits.
- The Coronavirus Act went through Parliament as the Prime Minister announced the national lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus on 23-25 March 2020. It created 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.
- Liberty, and other human rights groups, have consistently called for the Government to change course, to roll back excessive police powers, restore care standards, and provide more support to help people follow public health guidance, among other demands. More than 50,000 peopke signed Liberty’s petition to repeal the Coronavirus Act.
- Every charge made under Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act has been found by the Criminal Prosecution Service to be unlawful, and additional 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.
- Since the first coronavirus 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.
- 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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