Freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19 has urged the UK Government to place a time limit on its emergency powers. The Coronavirus Bill will go to the UK Parliament on Monday, March 23.
Acting Executive Director Quinn McKew said:
“The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest crisis that the UK has faced in peacetime. These extraordinary times call for a strong response from the Government but we must not abandon human rights and democratic values in the process.
“The Coronavirus Bill will give the state exceptional powers that will change the relationship between the state and the public. We need to ensure that this shift is temporary, not permanent.
“We urge the UK Parliament to adopt amendments that would limit the duration of the Act to ensure that these powers do not become entrenched. Regular scrutiny is needed to ensure that state powers are limited to what is strictly necessary and proportionate for the UK during a changing public health crisis.”
Powers in the UK Coronavirus bill
The Coronavirus Bill will give the state extensive emergency powers:
Surveillance: There are concerns that the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic could see an increase in surveillance. Safeguards for surveillance would be weakened through changes to how warrants are issued. The Home Secretary would be able to appoint temporary Judicial Commissioners, who would have the powers to approve warrants signed off by a Secretary of State. The Bill would also see the length of time that Judicial Commissioners can give ex post facto authorisation of warrants from three to 12 days.
Detention: The Bill would give the police and immigration officials the power to detain people who they suspect are infected with coronavirus. Protections under the Mental Health Act would be weakened.
Right to assembly: The Bill would effectively remove the right to assembly. While some restrictions on our ability to gather are necessary to limit the spread of coronavirus, we need to ensure that our right to protest is not damaged in the long-term.
Restricting the duration of the Bill
A number of amendments have been proposed to restrict the length of the Bill from three to 12 months. ARTICLE 19 believes ending the Act after three months is the best option for ensuring that the powers are given regular and proper scrutiny.
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