May 7, 2021

Lockdown has undermined democracy itself

Lockdown has undermined democracy itself
Lockdown has undermined democracy itself

Lockdown has undermined democracy itself

Related: In 1918, there was an anti-mask league in San Francisco

The Government’s announcement of 10-year prison sentences for those caught lying about travelling to “red-list” countries is surely a watershed moment.

The state is to treat people who evade travel quarantine regulations, many of whom will be perfectly healthy and not a threat to public health, as criminals – and as particularly serious criminals, at that, with sentencing that exceeds the terms given for some firearms and sexual offences.Even more remarkable, however, is how this measure is set to be introduced. Will there be a debate in Parliament? It doesn’t appear so.

Will its critics have the chance to question its proportionality? Probably not. Scandalously, the Government is expected to rely on existing forgery or fraud laws to achieve its purposes.This democratic void is unjustifiable. Tragically, it’s not new. Since the pandemic began, we have seen a pattern of the Government avoiding the normal parliamentary processes to enact its will. Pre-existing laws have been stretched grotesquely, performing functions their makers are unlikely to have ever imagined, while draconian new rules have been imposed by decree.

At the start of the pandemic, it was expected that the Government would rely on the Civil Contingencies Act to create emergency powers. The Act was designed for situations such as this and is furnished with safeguards, including regular parliamentary oversight. However, that was not what the Government did at all. Absurdly, given what we now know about the deficiencies in its preparations for Covid, it claimed that the Act could not be used as “the problem was known about early enough for it not to qualify as an emergency.”

It has relied instead on legislation that requires no meaningful oversight, and has used the powers those laws provide liberally. Since March last year, ministers have made 80 statutory instruments using urgent procedures in the Public Health Act alone. In total, to date, the Government has imposed 366 coronavirus-related statutory instruments under over 113 Acts of Parliament, 5 Orders and 4 EU Regulations, of which only 18 required parliamentary approval before coming into force.

Even on the occasions where policies have been publicised in the weeks prior to their implementation, they have often been enforced by ministerial fiat on the basis of “urgency”.The Government could perhaps have been excused for ruling by decree back in March 2020 when the Prime Minister issued a televised statement instructing the nation to stay at home on the threat of criminal sanctions.

Only days later did the lockdown actually have legal authority, after the Health Secretary made the regulations. Even so, Parliament was not afforded a chance to vote on the lockdown regulations for seven weeks, by which time they had been changed.A year on, there is no such justification for emergency law-making or the evasion of parliament. We have found ourselves in a prolonged state of exceptionalism where minister-made law is a norm and the role of Westminster, the mother of parliaments, is emaciated.

Every national lockdown has been announced via televised statements by ministers as though law, without legal authority or even a parliamentary debate. Some policies of major consequence have been enforced by ministers without even a press statement. Almost two weeks ago, without the scrutiny of publicity or parliament, the Health Secretary threw open a gateway for police to access NHS Test and Trace data by passing an obscure amendment to one of the scores of health regulations.

The mere suggestion of this policy had previously been criticized by the British Medical Association, members of Sage and parliamentarians. The quarantine rules and custodial sentences envisaged for travellers speak to a policy that is part of our exit from lockdowns. And therein lies a major problem. This pattern of rule without parliament risks becoming not only an emergency reaction to an immediate problem, but a mode of governance that could define our future. The authoritarian reflexes our country is learning could easily stay with us for years.

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Source: The telegraph archive

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