Big Brother Watch’s response — Emergency bill outline now published

Big Brother Watch Team / March 18, 2020

The Government has published an outline of the Emergency Coronavirus Bill, set to be “nodded through” on Thursday.

It is right that Government takes rapid and robust action, but good laws are rarely made in haste and rights are too often the casualty of crisis.

The Opposition will not seek a vote on this Bill, but the public needs to be reassured that scrutiny is afforded to these extraordinary powers. The Opposition and civil society have important roles to play in scrutinising emergency powers to protect both public health and human rights.

The outline of the Bill raises immediate questions:

1. The law will last 2 years.

Government must justify this length given the severity of the measures, which will interfere with the everyday lives of people in the UK. A shorter duration with a sunset clause would ensure the powers are strictly temporary and promptly reviewed.

2. The Bill gives police and immigration officers the power to detain members of the public for Coronavirus testing.

This demands scrutiny and utmost caution. It’s unclear in what circumstances this extraordinary power would or could be used. It has complex rights implications.

3. The Bill allows the Home Secretary to significantly extend the time frame for a judicial commissioner to review urgent surveillance warrants.

The time frame for urgent warrants in the UK is already unusually long and, even if later invalidated, does not require deletion of material.

We now await publication of the full Bill.