The Government’s response to COVID-19: human rights implications Contents


Protecting the right to life during the Covid-19 pandemic

1.The right to life (Article 2 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) has been, and must remain, central to the Government’s response to Covid-19. The Government has a positive duty to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction (Article 2 ECHR).1 During this crisis, it has emerged that some groups in our society have been at greater risk and therefore needed greater protection–for example, residents in care homes and some members of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Many of the measures taken by the Government to halt the spread of Covid-19 have been taken with the duty to protect life in mind. Sadly, a large number of people have died from Covid-19 in the UK and our sympathies go to those who have lost loved ones to the disease.

2.In the course of tackling Covid-19, some of the actions taken by the Government to preserve lives (as required by Article 2 of the ECHR) have interfered with numerous other human rights. The level of interference with rights was for most people, the greatest they will have experienced in their lifetime. It is vitally important that checks and balances are in place to ensure that human rights remain fully protected.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ work on the Government’s response to Covid-19 and human rights

3.We launched our inquiry into the Government’s response to Covid-19 on 19 March 2020.2 In our call for evidence we asked for views on:

4.The Government introduced its Coronavirus Bill to the House of Commons on the day that we launched our inquiry. We published a Chair’s briefing note on the Government’s response to Covid-19 to inform debate on that Bill.3 We published a further Chair’s briefing note on the Coronavirus Regulations and lockdown on 9 April 2020.4

5.We took oral evidence during the Easter recess from the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland MP. We then followed this by hearing evidence and publishing reports on:

6.We have received 256 pieces of written evidence from a wide range of organisations and individuals in response to our call for evidence and are grateful for all those who contributed. We have also been assisted in our work by two specialist advisers: the barristers Adam Wagner and Alex Ruck Keene, and by Terry McGuinness from the House of Commons Library and Klara Banaszak and Daniel Greenberg from the Office of Speaker’s Counsel.8

This report

7.This report seeks to inform the six-month review of the Coronavirus legislation required by the Coronavirus Act 2020 along with any future response to a “second wave” of the virus later this year. The report begins by setting out the legislative framework in play, then focuses on the following themes and rights:

The report also reflects on the challenge of ensuring the emergency legislation required in response to the outbreak was subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and review.

8.There are, of course, a great deal of other issues raised that we are not able to fully cover in this report. They are none-the-less important and we include references to them where we can. These include, for example:

9.This report focuses on the UK Government’s response, and the response in England in respect of matters which are devolved to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

1 Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v Romania [2014] ECHR 972

2 COVID-19 response scrutinised to ensure human rights are upheld”, Joint Committee on Human Rights, 19 March 2020

3 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Background paper: COVID-19, 19 March 2020

4 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Chair’s Briefing Paper: Coronavirus Restrictions Regulations and Lockdown, 9 April 2020

5 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Third Report of Session 2019–21, Human Rights and the government’s Response to Covid-19: Digital Contact Tracing, HC 343/ HL Paper 59

7 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Sixth Report of Session 2019–21, Human Rights and the Government’s response to COVID-19: children whose mothers are in prison, HC 518/ HL Paper 90

8 See the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Formal Minutes 2019–21

9 Children are defined as those under the age of 18

10 As well as children’s rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the child (UNCRC) which includes the principle of non-discrimination (Article 2 UNCRC), that the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration (Article 3 UNCRC), the right to life, survival and development (Article 6 UNCRC), the right to freedom of expression (Article 13 UNCRC), the right to freedom of association (Article 15 UNCRC), the right to protection from violence, abuse and neglect (Article 19 UNCRC), the rights of disabled children (Article 23 UNCRC), the right to health and health services (Article 24 UNCRC), the right to education, including the broad goals of education (Articles 28 and 29 UNCRC), the right to leisure, play and culture (Article 31 UNCRC), protection from sexual exploitation (Article 34 UNCRC)

Published: 21 September 2020