The following post was written on the morning of 26 of March 2020. Today, 27th of March, the Chief Coroner brought out Guidance 35 on hearings during the pandemic (no. 35), with the proviso that all these issues will be kept under review.
On the 26th of March the Chief Coroner published Guidance Note 34 (“GN34”) on COVID-19 which can be found here. The Guidance Note addresses many of the issues relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the coronial service. We set out below some answers to questions those involved with the coronial system may currently have in mind, taken from the Guidance Note and other sources (“GN34#(No.)” refers to paragraph numbers in the Guidance Note).
1) Are Coroners’ Courts conducting hearings at the moment?
GN34#10 provides that “no physical hearing should take place unless it is urgent and essential business and that it is safe for those involved for the hearing to take place. A particular concern is to ensure social distancing in court and in the court building.”
It is also noted that
All hearings that can possibly take place remotely (via whatever means) should do so, and other hearings should continue only if suitable arrangements can be made to ensure distancing although the Chief Coroner accepts that in many jurisdictions this may be difficult. Hearings which must continue should be those considered essential business
Faced with mounting criticism of his reluctance to impose restrictions on British society in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, this evening Boris Johnson ratcheted up Britain’s response by announcing a strict lockdown across the country. His address to the nation is available in full here.
Quarantines and lockdowns are sweeping Europe: Italy, France, Spain. Through them, states seek to contain Covid-19 and so save lives. It is difficult to imagine higher stakes from a human rights perspective: mass interferences with whole populations’ liberties on one side; the very weighty public interest in protecting lives on the other; and all this under the shadow of uncertainty and disorder. What, if anything, do human rights have to say?
To begin sketching an answer to this complex question, this post analyses the situation in the European state furthest down this path: Italy. After outlining the Italian measures (I), it argues that Italy’s mass restrictions on internal movement are unlikely to violate the right to free movement but pose problems in respect of the right to liberty (II). I conclude by summarising the tangle of other rights issues those measures raise and making a tentative reflection on the currently limited role of human rights law (III).
Before beginning, I should note that analysing measures’ human rights compliance in abstracto is difficult and slightly artificial: a great deal turns on how measures are implemented in practice and particular individuals’ circumstances. Moreover, my analysis is limited to the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), and I do not profess expertise in Italian law (which is proving complex to interpret). The aim of this post is therefore to start, not end, debate about human rights’ role as these measures begin to spread across Europe.
Thomas Hayes is a specialist registrar in vascular surgery and forthcoming pupil at 1 Crown Office Row
As teased earlier, the Covid-19 pandemic gives rise to such a volume of material as to justify a slightly more detailed examination of its consequences. In time, the response of governments across the globe to the disease will no doubt be the subject of detailed study by academics across the fields of biology, history and law. For the time being, however, blog readers will have to tolerate the following words of speculation, much of which will probably suffer the cruel fate of being shown to be out of date and/or inaccurate within hours of publication…
The government has announced its intention to bring before Parliament this week emergency laws to help control the outbreak. Whilst at the time of writing, such draft legislation had not been published, press reports suggested it would include new powers to allow the police to detain those breaking quarantine measures. Where the police might take such recalcitrant citizens is not known, however the prospect of detaining in close proximity those suspected of carrying the highly infectious airborne disease presumably fills neither the police nor public health officials with much joy…
Demonstrators protest government deportation flights outside Downing Street. Credit: The Guardian.
The last week provided no shortage of legal controversy, and posed the author of this blog considerable difficulty when trying to identify which developments deserved the most prominence. In analysing this avalanche of legal news, however, certain key themes started to develop.
This Government’s key message has been its ability get things done, whether it be Brexit, HS2 or stopping the spread of Coronavirus.
Indeed, if the new high speed trains move as swiftly as the Health Secretary did on Monday, then they might break the sound barrier: the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 were enacted at 6.50am on Monday and laid before Parliament by 2.30 that afternoon. Their preamble states that
the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
One can appreciate the desire to bypass the cumbersome mechanics of Parliament to save the country from a potentially deadly virus. But in the fullness of time, the resulting Regulations might well be held up as an excellent advertisement for Parliamentary scrutiny.
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