Coronavirus Legislation and Human Rights

by Hannah Dickson, Development Manager

As a team we’ve been thinking about the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has been having on community safety, on the ability of community safety partnerships to operate under current conditions and what we can do to support community safety partners during this time. The emergency legislation from the UK and Scottish Governments in response to the pandemic, whilst necessary to ensure the effective provision of vital public services at this time, must be proportionate and make due consideration of human rights principles and done with openness and accountability.

There has been substantial coverage in the media and by human rights organisations on the overall impact on human rights, restrictions on normal life and the emergency Coronavirus legislation in terms of review points, the end point and sunset clauses. Issues with the lack of scrutiny overall due to the rapid timescales and proposed changes to Freedom of Information requirements and the effect on transparency has also received a lot of attention and rightly so.  We share similar concerns, but are giving particular thought to the importance of maintaining national and local scrutiny of public services under the current conditions; and scrutiny of the process and new powers gifted by the emergency legislation. We are involved in conversations with others on these issues and will be publishing a blog of our thoughts next week but wanted to share some of the issues we’ve been thinking about:

  • What should the minimum national and local commitment to scrutiny activity and governance be in relation to policing, justice and safer communities?
  • What additional scrutiny should be taking place of the additional powers and restrictions gifted under the UK and Scottish coronavirus legislation? In particular of the additional powers given to Police Scotland? You can find the commitment from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on this here: and the response from, amongst others, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). Other justice considerations are in relation to prisoners, court proceedings and sentencing.
  • What are the implications of the extension of time limits for retention of biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA? What was the driver and decision-making process for this?
  • What are the road safety implications under the suspension of MOTs (this is a reserved matter)?
  • What are the implications of relaxation of time limits of rules relating to local licensing processes and other local authority processes? For example is there a risk of granting alcohol licenses without the normal level of scrutiny or transparency of the process in relation to overprovision considerations?

The focus of the public sector is currently on ‘business critical’ issues. This is, of course, correct, but this cannot be at the expense of other hugely important aspects such as transparency, openness and accountability; particularly in the longer-term and ‘new normal’.

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