The Weekly Round-Up: Lockdown Again (Again)
5 January 2021
In the News:
So: here we are again.
Rampant spread, fuelled by a combination of a new variant that is around 50-70% more transmissible, plus a lifting of restrictions at the beginning of December, brings us into another national lockdown.
In many ways, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first address of 2021 felt unpleasantly like a return to early 2020.
The original “Stay Home” messaging made a comeback. The Prime Minister was deliberately vague about how long lockdown would last. Big Brother Watch criticised the government for “yet again … evading the democratic process” by denying MPs a meaningful vote on the new national restrictions prior to their televised announcement to the nation, or their coming into force. The new guidance differs from the Tier 4 guidance in emphasis, if not substance.
Ever the optimist, the Prime Minister was keen to emphasise “one huge difference” between this lockdown and the first one: the UK is “rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in its history”. He also managed to get in a jab at the UK having delivered more vaccines than the rest of Europe combined.
There were other, more subtle differences, as No. 10 tweaked its messaging in light of past mistakes.
After disturbing figures indicating that domestic abuse during 2020 was a “pandemic within a pandemic”, the Prime Minister was clear that people could leave their homes “to escape domestic abuse”, among other essential reasons.
After footballer Marcus Rashford helped force the government into a U-turn on school meals last year, the Prime Minister explicitly referenced free school meal extension during his speech.
Speaking to the FT yesterday, Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a pandemic adviser, highlighted differences which the government was slow to accept in the period after Christmas. The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is already higher than the April peak. Many healthcare workers are sick, isolating or exhausted. The time of year is working against us.
So: here we are again. Even if the Prime Minister manages to deliver on his projected timeline for the vaccine, for the next two months at least, we haven’t seen the back of 2020 yet.
In Other News:
- Today, the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill reaches its final stage in the House of Lords. If all goes to plan, the bill will create the role of domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, and Nicole Jacobs will become the first person in that role.
- The Guardian has reported that the use of force against prison inmates has doubled over the past decade. According to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, force was used 59.1 times per 100 inmates in the year from April 2019. The last such figures, published in 2011-12, showed force used about 27 times per 100 prisoners.
- The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reintroduced a policy of publishing a list of companies who paid staff wages which illegally fell below the national minimum. The list included Tesco, which is the UK’s largest private employer; Pizza Hut; and a hotel group owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, former owner of the Hotel du Vin chin and chairman of Soho House.
In the Courts:
- United States Of America v Assange  EW Misc 1: District Judge Vanessa Baritser blocked the extradition of Julian Assange to the US to stand trial on one charge of computer hacking and 17 charges of violating the US’s 1917 Espionage Act. She did not accept that the extradition would be violate Mr Assange’s human rights, or that extradition was barred by the passage of time under s82 of the Extradition Act 2003. However, due to Mr Assange’s suicidal mental state, his extradition would be unjust or oppressive under s91 of the EA 2003. Baraitser quickly came under fire for delivering “the right decision, but for the wrong reason”, and it was argued that she should have framed her decision as a criticism of US atrocities and a defence of whistle-blowers and the free press.
- S (A Child) v TikTok Inc. & Ors  EWHC 3589 (QB): Mr Justice Warby granted a pre-action application for permission to issue proceedings under a pseudonym on behalf of a 12-year-old child intending to bring a claim for breach of privacy against the social media platform TikTok. The child’s intention, through the Children’s Commissioner, is to bring a representative action pursuant to CPR 19.6 on behalf of other young users. This approach was clearly inspired by a case Warby J dismissed at first instance, now pending in the Supreme Court: a representative action against Google on behalf of a class of 4 million Apple iPhone users.