Would you be first in the queue for the Covid-19 vaccine if and when it is rolled out? Or would you prefer to wait and appraise its effects on more pioneering citizens? With nearly a year of widespread media coverage of the coronavirus, it would not be surprising if a large percentage of an already fearful population exercised its right not to be subjected to what would be an assault and battery under English law: medical treatment without consent.
This is a syndrome, and it has a name. It is called “vaccine hesitancy”. The WHO describes this as “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”. Our willingness to avail ourselves of a future COVID vaccine is very much in doubt, and it is in doubt in high places.
Should a Covid-19 vaccine become available at scale, we cannot expect sufficient voluntary uptake.
Update: on Tuesday 17 November the Danish government finished considering a new law giving the government extended powers to respond to epidemics. Parts of this law that propose that:
People infected with dangerous diseases can be forcibly given medical examination, hospitalised, treated and placed in isolation. The Danish Health Authority would be able to define groups of people who must be vaccinated in order to contain and eliminate a dangerous disease. People who refuse the above can – in some situations – be coerced through physical detainment, with police allowed to assist. See the Danish newsletter here. In this country, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out mandatory inoculation, telling talkRADIO the government would ‘have to watch what happens and… make judgments accordingly’.
condition of release from pandemic-related restrictions on liberty, including on movement and association
The authors of the report base this proposal on two “parity arguments”:
a. If Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ measures are compatible with human rights law, then it is arguable that compulsory vaccination is too (lockdown parity argument); b. If compulsory medical treatment under mental health law for personal and public protection purposes is compatible with human rights law, then it is arguable that compulsory vaccination is too (mental health parity argument).
They contend that there is “an arguable case” for the compatibility of compulsory vaccination with human rights law.
With Baroness Hale’s recent criticism of the emergency measures taken by the government ringing in our ears, the following information from across the Atlantic might be of interest. The New England firm Pierce Atwood LLP has compiled a list of class actions related to COVID-19 in the United States, including all filed and anticipated cases up to 9 September 2020. Although their survey only covers litigation in the US, a similar trend may be predicted in this country, albeit on a smaller scale, even as the pandemic continues to unfold: indeed Alethea Redfern has made reference to such a likelihood in this week’s Round-Up. The authors of the US report observe that, despite “unprecedented court closures and changing procedural rules”,
class actions have steadily increased and are expected to expand across industries, jurisdictions, and areas of law. The impact of COVID-19 on business operations, consumer activity, and economic forecasts has made clear that the filings to date are only an early indication of what is to come.
The report provides a categorised summary of coronavirus-related class action litigation filed to date, highlighting the core allegations of each complaint. You will find the individual case citations in their post on Lexology.
Even in times of emergency, … and even when the merits of the Government response are not widely contested, the rule of law matters.
Thus commenced a lengthy judgment by the New Zealand High Court, Wellington Registry, ruling that the first nine days of New Zealand lockdown were unlawful. The three judge panel found that
While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the Covid-19 crisis at the time, the requirement was not prescribed by law and was therefore contrary to section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
Tribunal Administrative de Strasbourg, N°2003058 M. A. et autres
M. Simon, Juge des référés
Ordonnance du 25 mai 2020
This judgment was handed down over two months ago but its relevance to the current rules on face masks in the UK makes for interesting reading. It is available only in French.
A group of individuals brought a challenge to a decree issued by the mayor of Strasbourg obliging citizens over the age of eleven to wear facemarks in the streets and other areas, in particular the Grande-Ile (an island in the centre of Strasbourg), from 10am – 8pm, enforceable by a fine. The obligation was in force from May 21 to 2 June.
On 30 July 2020, the Crown Prosecution Service published its performance statistics on sexual violence cases for the year 2019-20, which vindicate long-held concerns about the “damning” number of cases being lost amid “under-resourced” investigations.
The spotlight during the pandemic has been on frontline workers in the medical profession. But if you think of it, the real hazards are to be found in the dentist’s surgery, where most interactions with patients involve an operation in the mouth, whether it be drilling, cleaning or extraction. Most of what a dentist or a dental hygienist does is what has become widely known as an AGP – “aerosol generating procedure”.
In the latest episode of Law Pod UK Rosalind English talks to the head of indemnity at the British Dental Association Len D’Cruz about the challenges facing the dental profession during lockdown and the even greater hurdles to be faced after dentists resumed practice on the 8th of June 2020.
Together with anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate the news. Two recently published reports have highlighted flaws in the government’s response in relation to the provision of social security and domestic abuse support during the crisis.
We don’t dispense legal advice from the UKHRB, but I thought this was a very interesting question and the editorial board felt it best to try to answer it in a separate post, so here it is, and many thanks to Henry Tufnell, one of our pupil barristers, soon to become one of our new tenants, for taking up the challenge.
On 26 May, judicial review proceedings were launched in the High Court which not only challenged the lawfulness of the Lockdown Regulations as having been made “ultra vires” under the 1984 Public Health Act, but also claimed that they are disproportionate to the threat posed by Covid-19. Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office Row is acting for the claimant: see my post on the launch proceedings here.
This latest communication from the claimant has challenged the legality of the latest lockdown regulations, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020, enforceable from Monday 8 June. (NB whilst there might be changes afoot in respect of people travelling from and within the EU, the current position remains as set out in the regulations which took force this week). The claimant observes that from many weeks of data collected since it first affected the UK, that Covid-19 overwhelmingly affects primarily the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, not the “vast majority of the working population.”
Young people and children are scarcely affected at all. Indeed, as of the latest available figures published by NHS England, we note that out of a population of 56 million people in England alone, since the outbreak started, Covid-19 has been cited on the death certificates of just 279 people who died in hospital in England under the age of 60 with no pre-existing health condition. *
A High Court judge in South Africa has just taken a stand on the ANC government’s reaction to the pandemic. He has ruled that some of the lockdown regulations do not satisfy the rationality test under public law, and that their encroachment and limitation on the freedoms set out in the South African Bill of Rights are not justified in a society based on “human dignity, equality and freedom as contemplated in Section 36 of the Constitution.”
He drew “clear inference” from the evidence, that once the government had declared a national state of disaster, the goal was to flatten the curve by way of retarding or limiting the spread of the virus (“all very commendable and necessary objectives”). However, “little or in fact no regard” was given to the extent of the impact of individual regulations on the constitutional rights of people and whether the extent of the limitation of their rights was justifiable or not.
His criticism was not that the government should have done nothing in the face of the epidemic, but that they took a cartwheel to crush a butterfly.
The starting point was not “how can we as government limit Constitutional rights in the least possible fashion whilst still protecting the inhabitants of South Africa?” but rather “we will seek to achieve our goal by whatever means, irrespective of the costs and we will determine, albeit incrementally, which Constitutional rights you as the people of south Africa, may exercise”.
What is international law for, if it cannot be enforced against the country responsible for breach? That is the question raised by a recent report documenting a series of steps by the Chinese Communist party to conceal from the World Health Organisation and the rest of the world the outbreak and human-to-human transmission of coronavirus. If we want a rules-based international order to mean anything, the authors of the report point out, it must be upheld.
In a world in which authoritarian states often act with impunity, it is tempting to forget that the rules-based international order places obligations on everyone. The Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) is no exception to this rule. International law – in the form of Treaties, Covenants and Charters – places obligations on China, just as much as it does on the democracies of the West.
This paper identifies a number of possible legal avenues by which the wider world can pursue the PRC for the damages inflicted by its response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
I will attempt a summary of the report in the following paragraphs.
The WHO and the International Health Regulations 2005
The International Health Regulations (IHR) were adopted by the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The IHR were designed to prevent the international spread of disease by placing obligations on states to prevent certain highly-transmissible diseases that were named and notifiable. The IHR were revised in 2005, in response to the 2003 SARS 1 outbreak, and entered into force in 2007.
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.
The Human Rights Committee, reviewing NHSX’s current digital contact tracing app architecture, has recommended that the government’s current privacy assurances are not sufficient to protect data privacy and that legislation must be passed to ensure that. This echoes Professor Lilian Edwards’ call for primary legislation to ensure privacy rights are protected. These recommendations are given special significance NHSX’s choice to adopt the controversial and arguably less secure “centralised” model (an explanation of the different contact tracing models and Prof Edwards’ suggested legislation can be found here).
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