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Call for evidence

Constitutional implications of COVID-19: Emergency powers

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the constitutional issues raised by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is exploring the impact of the pandemic on: (a) the operation of the courts, (b) Parliament’s ability to function effectively, and (c) the use and scrutiny of emergency powers.

Calls for written evidence on the courts and Parliament strands of the inquiry have closed, and the Committee is in the process of reviewing that evidence. 

The Committee now calls for evidence on the use and scrutiny of emergency powers during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Committee welcomes written submissions on any aspect of this topic, and particularly on the issues and questions set out below. You need not address all the questions in your submission. We welcome contributions from all interested individuals and organisations. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday 18 November at 11.59pm. 

Call for evidence questions:  

The use of emergency powers during the Covid-19 pandemic

1. Does the Coronavirus Act 2020 strike the right balance between powers for the Executive and parliamentary oversight and approval?

2. What existing powers (other than those in the Coronavirus Act 2020) might have been used to deliver the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic? Was the Coronavirus Act 2020 necessary to implement the Government’s response to the pandemic?

3. How have the measures taken by the Government to address the pandemic been implemented, i.e. which aspects of the lockdown were set out in legislation, regulations and guidance? What effect has this had on the clarity of the measures? 

4. Has the use of emergency powers by the Government to address the pandemic been proportionate? 

Criminalisation and enforcement 

5. What new criminal offences have been introduced as part of the Government’s response to the pandemic? Is criminalisation a proportionate, justified and appropriate response? 

6. Have the new criminal offences introduced in response to the pandemic been sufficiently clear to: (a) members of the public and (b) the public authorities responsible for their interpretation and enforcement (including the police and the Crown Prosecution Service)? 

7. What factors led to wrongful arrests and convictions under the emergency powers and how might these have been avoided?

Promulgation

8. To what extent have the legal requirements imposed on people during lockdown been clear and accessible to members of the public? How should the new measures introduced in response to the pandemic be communicated and explained to authorities (e.g. local government, police, border force, regulators), businesses and members of the public? 

Devolved and local government

9. What have been the consequences of legal divergence between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom in responding to the pandemic?

10. Have local authorities been granted adequate powers to respond to the pandemic in their local area? Have the emergency measures taken by the Government struck the right balance of power between national and local governments?

11. How well have intergovernmental relations worked during the crisis through established mechanisms and through the Civil Contingencies Committee (COBR)?

12. Are there examples from other countries that are instructive as to the management of the virus between national and regional/state legislatures and executives?

Parliamentary scrutiny 

13. To what extent has Parliament been able effectively to scrutinise the statutory instruments related to the pandemic measures? What additional steps ought to be taken to ensure effective scrutiny of emergency statutory instruments in future?  

14. To what extent are safeguards on emergency powers (such as provisions for 21-day reviews) undermined when Parliament is not sitting, or when sittings are restricted? How might the law and/or parliamentary procedure need to adapt to such circumstances? 

15. What processes are there for securing renewed Parliamentary oversight and control of the legislative agenda once the urgency of a given emergency has diminished? Are the sunset provisions and other safeguards provided for in the Coronavirus Act 2020 and associated regulations sufficient for this purpose? 

16. What lessons can be learned from the (1) Government’s preparation, and (2) Parliament’s constrained scrutiny of the fast-tracked Coronavirus Bill? What should be done differently the next time there's a need for substantial emergency legislation? 

17. How does and should the Sewel/Legislative Consent convention operate in relation to emergency legislation?

18. Is there a case for reworking or consolidating emergency powers legislation? Should safeguards and scrutiny processes be standardised and, if so, how should they be designed to operate during a crisis? 

 

 

This call for written evidence has now closed.

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