Liberty: parliament review must call for change to emergency police powers

Posted on 04 May 2020

  • Human rights organisation briefs all MPs ahead of the first and only review into the new police powers.
  • Line between what is the law and what is public health advice is unclear and confusing for the public.
  • Liberty Director says the powers go too far and are too broad.

Liberty, the human rights organisation, has urged all MPs to demand new police powers are fixed to protect human rights ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate today.

Parliament is due to review the sweeping new powers handed to police to enforce the coronavirus lockdown for the first and only time on Monday (4 May 2020). Despite this being a mandatory review and the only chance parliament has to raise objections to these sweeping changes to police powers, the debate was listed at short notice, giving MPs and stakeholders limited time to prepare.

Liberty has written to all MPs with an in-depth briefing setting out the amendments urgently needed to safeguard against abuses of power.

Since these emergency measures were introduced, there have been numerous, well-publicised instances of overzealous policing, as well as examples of police forces acting beyond the scope of their new powers.

Liberty’s recommendations include:

  • Make clear what is the law, and what is public health advice.
  • Amend the regulations to make clear it is not an offence to fail to answer police questions
  • Add crucial exemptions for groups including disabled people, homeless people and people at risk of domestic abuse.

Further recommendations from Liberty can be found in the briefing and in notes below.

Martha Spurrier, Liberty Director, said: “We need to come through this crisis the right way, with our rights intact at the end of it.

“Despite this being a legally required review, the debate was quietly listed at short notice, giving MPs and stakeholders limited time to provide the robust scrutiny that is desperately needed.

“This is a public health crisis, not a criminal justice one, but the Government responded by giving the police extremely wide powers – they go too far and are too broad. This has caused lasting harm to people’s lives, is particularly concerning for communities that are already over-policed and has undermined public trust in authorities.

“People have shown enormous goodwill that they will comply with the guidance voluntarily. These blunt powers ignore that goodwill and are unnecessary and harmful.

“The Government needs to build a response to this crisis that has human rights at its heart, protecting public health while ensuring no-one suffers unjust, heavy-handed treatment from authorities.”

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