This report examines what lessons can be learnt from the way in which new covid-19 related offences have been created and enforced throughout the pandemic. Specifically, we have considered the creation and enforcement of these offences within the context of the wider criminal justice system and from a rule of law perspective.
A central lesson from our inquiry has been that the Government needs to ensure that the criminal law is fully considered within future pandemic planning. In addition to creating a public health crisis, the covid-19 pandemic has shown that pandemics can have an enduring impact on our criminal justice system and courts. Given the speed and scale with which the Government needed to create new regulations in response to the pandemic, in future it needs to have the requisite tools in advance to respond in a swift and proportionate manner that does not risk criminalising behaviour in ways incompatible with widely understood principles of the rule of law, and avoids any lasting damage to our criminal justice system.
Other lessons we have identified in our report include:
We commend the Government for learning lessons quickly throughout the pandemic and for its creation of the UK Health Security Agency to focus on future pandemic preparedness. The new agency must have sufficient criminal law expertise at its disposal. To further understand the lessons learnt from our inquiry we recommend that the UK Health Security Agency launches a study into the role played by the criminal justice system in protecting public health during pandemics. The aim of the study should be to examine how effective the new covid-19 offences have been at achieving compliance with public health restrictions.