The Round Up: Pilot Contact Tracing and a Points-Based Immigration Bill

18 May 2020 by

This afternoon, health secretary Matt Hancock made a statement in the Commons updating the house on the government’s response to the crisis.

The health secretary announced that anyone in the UK aged five and over who has coronavirus symptoms will be eligible for a test. From today, recognised symptoms include the loss of smell and taste, as well a persistent cough and a high temperature. Hancock confirmed for the first time that the government has recruited over 21,000 contact tracers, including 7,500 health care professionals, to manually trace and get in contact with anyone who has tested positive.

In addition, he offered a degree of clarification in relation to the government’s new contact tracing app. The function of the app is to alert people of the need to self-isolate if they have come into proximity with an individual who reported coronavirus symptoms.

Concerns have been raised over the efficacy of the app, which has been being offered to all Isle of Wight residents in an early, unsophisticated trial version for 10 days now. Senior NHS sources have described the app as “a bit wobbly.” Even if the niggles are fixed, epidemiologists say around 60% of the population of the UK will need to install and use the software for it to be fully operational.

But the concern raised most frequently – by academics and privacy experts, high profile MPs in the Joint Committee on Human Rights, thousands of blog posts and articles, and members of the app’s own advisory board – is privacy. On this blog, Rafe Jennings has explained the privacy considerations raised by the app, and summarised the Joint Committee’s proposed data protection legislation. Rosalind English has outlined a webinar held on 13 May by experts in data protection, human rights and constitutional law facilitated by Lord Sandhurst (formerly Guy Mansfield QC of 1 Crown Office Row) on the Isle of Wight trial, available in full here. Given the uncertainty surrounding the app’s functionality, the proportionality of a possible interference with privacy is in question.

The health secretary’s statement did little to address privacy qualms, which have not been calmed by an inadvertent leak of internal NHS documents sketching the app’s development roadmap earlier today. Notes attached to the documents suggested that details of an individual’s “GP practice” and “postal code” could be asked for in the future.

Perhaps this is why, in his press conference a few hours later, the foreign secretary and first secretary of state Dominic Raab would not commit the government to having the already-delayed app ready for 1 June. We have a roadmap, insisted Raab —but it’s a “roadmap with maximum conditionality”.

In the News

  • Priti Patel brought a flagship post-Brexit immigration bill to the House of Commons for its second reading today. Introducing the bill, which paves the way for the government to introduce a new points-based system, the home secretary said it would “end free movement … laying the foundation of a high wage, high skill productive economy”. Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds responded with a strongly worded letter characterising the bill as an act of “rank hypocrisy” and “an insult to our incredible NHS staff and care workers.” The move comes after the government updated its guidance on how Home Office staff should consider applications for naturalisation as a British citizen on 15 May 2020. The update, summarised here, means that EU citizens with settled status who apply for naturalisation may now have to provide evidence that they have been living in the UK legally.
  • A report on short scrutiny visits to local prisons by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons caused consternation by revealing that tightened restrictions in one prison meant that some “symptomatic prisoners had been isolated in their cells without any opportunity to come out for a shower or exercise for up to 14 days.” In another prison, soap was not available to all prisoners in their cells, and some shower rooms were too dilapidated to be cleaned to a safe standard.
  • New figures show that police issued more than 14,000 fixed penalty notices for alleged breaches of lockdown laws in the period from 27 March to 11 May. The National Police Chiefs’ Council said that the figures show officers are taking a “proportionate” approach – with only one in 5,000 people across England and Wales fined.
  • A pregnant healthcare worker who has worked for six years at a London hospital on a zero-hours agency contract is bringing action against NHS Professionals, owned by the Department of Health and Social Care, after she was sent home during the pandemic without  work or pay for eight weeks, and advised to apply for universal credit. Her lawyers say this was a breach  of the UK’s Employment Rights Act.  
  • After an Interpol Red Notice was issued for US national Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an intelligence official based at RAF Croughton, the US has said that its decision to refuse an extradition request for Harry Dunn’s alleged killer was final. The US has argued that the standing agreement, which waives the immunity from criminal jurisdiction of base personnel in respect of acts performed outside the course of their duties, does not extend to wives of personnel. The recent developments have prompted fresh calls for Britain to hold its ground on the issue.

In the Courts

  • R (on the application of Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures Ltd) v The Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs [2020] EWCA Civ 649: the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision that the trading restrictions in the Ivory Act 2018 were lawful. When brought into force, the provisions will introduce wide ranging prohibitions on the domestic and international trade in ivory. It was held that the Judge had been correct in his analysis and reasoning; the restrictions do not violate EU rules on the free movement of goods or the fundamental principle of respect for property under Article 17 of the ECHR.
  • A Local Authority v The Mother & Ors [2020] EWHC 1233 (Fam): in proceedings which related to the death of a three year old girl following cocaine ingestion, Mr Justice Williams declined to resume the hearing of evidence remotely, and instead adjourned the case until 24 June. Mr Justice Williams weighed the mother’s article 6 right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal against the article 6 rights of the other parties. Particular account was taken of the considerable importance of the issues to the parties, and the absence of much contemporary evidence, which placed a focus and premium on oral evidence. The judgement contains a full assessment of the benefits and disbenefits of remote or semi-remote fact-finding hearings.  

On the UKHRB

  • As mentioned above: following on from Rafe Jenning’s post on the technology behind “contact tracing” via bluetooth apps on our smartphones, Rosalind English summarises a virtual gathering of legal experts in data protection, human rights and constitutional law on the results of the first test run of the app in the Isle of Wight.
  • Rosalind English outlines the key arguments made against the Coronavirus Act 2020 in a recent paper co-authored by Professor Clive Walker of the University of Leeds and Andrew Blick of King’s College London.
  • Joanna Curtis assesses how the recent judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in Keaney v Ireland (Application no. 72060/17) highlights the conflict that can arise between a common law legal system and the speed of redress which the European Court demands.
  • Samuel March overviews the Court of Appeal’s decision in Manning, R. v (Rev 1) [2020] EWCA Crim 592, in which the Lord Chief Justice considered that the courts should keep the heightened impact of a custodial sentence during the pandemic in mind when sentencing.

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