Coronavirus / Fundamental rights

The Government has launched an assault on our rights

Posted on 17 Sep 2020

The dangerous announcements of the last few days show why it’s more important than ever that we stand up to power.

Over the past few days, through official and unofficial channels, the Government has announced significant threats to our rights and civil liberties, both in light of the coronavirus response and its future agenda.

While its communications have characteristically been chaotic and confused the message couldn’t be clearer: never has it been more vital we stand up to power.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Government is set to bring forward plans to amend the Human Rights Act, so that it can “opt out” of respecting our rights when it sees fit.

The Government of the day cannot pick and choose which of our rights to respect according to its immediate political needs.

Unfortunately, the pandemic created fertile ground for this sort of conduct to look legitimate. In March Government brought in the Coronavirus Act and it winged its way through parliament, the imminent threat of the pandemic hastening its ascent. Yet this fantastically restrictive pieces of legislation now has MPs calling for its repeal.

The Government cannot pick and choose which laws to abide by either – or apparently it can as per this week’s parliamentary business over Brexit.

As we all bear witness to this Government side-lining the rule of law as well as purposefully evading parliamentary process, it’s worth remembering the Conservative manifesto, written mere months ago.

It proclaimed that: “as Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law. Our independent courts and legal system are respected throughout the world”.

And while this Government seems content to play fast and loose with laws affecting its conduct, it’s a different message when it comes to laws affecting us – the people it’s meant to represent. Law and order rule supreme, apparently, when the Government wants to withhold our freedoms and restrict our civil liberties. Its threat to the Human Rights Act must be seen with this in mind. This Government cares more about itself than protecting our rights. It literally is one rule for us, and one rule for them. Accountability, it seems, is something this Executive wants to consign to the history books.

The Government should be facilitating compliance with public health measures, not prioritising criminalisation and spreading confusion.

On Sunday night the Government published the latest coronavirus lockdown regulations – unnecessarily using emergency powers to evade parliamentary scrutiny – minutes before they became law. Hardly fair.

As of midnight on Sunday, we could be fined and handed criminal penalties for offences set out quietly 20 minutes earlier. This is an unjust and unnecessary threat to our rights, making it harder for us all to avoid breaking the law. It will also further undermine public confidence in the public health strategy. The Government should be facilitating compliance with public health measures, not prioritising criminalisation and spreading confusion.

Liberty as an organisation has always resisted attempts by Governments – of all stripes – to undermine our rights or restrict our individual and collective liberties. Given current conduct and the newly floated threat, it looks like we’re in for an all-out assault in the coming months. This fight is one we must win. What’s at stake isn’t an intellectual debate – the core tenets of justice, fairness and freedom, the very pillars of a democracy are at stake. Now, more than ever, we must stand up to power.

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