20 March 2020
This briefing addresses the emergency Coronavirus Bill, ahead of Second Reading in the House of Commons on the 23rd March 2020. We fully appreciate the pressure Government is under in responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus and understand that the measures proposed in this Bill are for the carefully considered extension of State power in a time of public health emergency. Nevertheless, it is important that due scrutiny is given to any expansion of power. JUSTICE is solely concerned with the operation of the justice system and we set out the three, narrowly confined concerns in the Bill to ensure that the proposed powers are used appropriately:
• The sunset and review provisions in the Bill must be shorter, to reflect a proportionate exercise of exceptional powers and the estimates as to the length of the crisis;
• Powers that may restrict events, gatherings and use of premises must only be exercised when it is necessary and proportionate to do so;
• Every effort should be made to ensure that legal cases can proceed through the courts and tribunals. The preference should be for fully video trials in the alternative to in-person trials to ensure equality of arms and effective participation.