Coronavirus Legislative Responses in the UK: Regression to Panic and Disdain of Constitutionalism
(2021) 72 No. S1 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (COVID-19 Supplement) 1–36
36 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2021 Last revised: 10 Nov 2021
Date Written: November 1, 2021
The United Kingdom has considerable prowess in handling emergencies, not just in counterterrorism but also in a wide range of other real or imagined disasters, including public health risks. Core legislation has been installed, including the all-encompassing Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004 and the more specialist Public Health (Control of Disease) Act (PHA) 1984. Despite these finely honed models, the UK state regressed to panic mode when faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than turning to the laws already in place, Parliament fast-tracked the Coronavirus Act 2020, with scant debate of its shabbily drafted contents. In addition, the UK Government has relied heavily, with minimal scrutiny, on regulations under the PHA 1984. The article analyses the competing legal codes and how they have been deployed to deal with COVID-19. It then draws out the strengths and weaknesses of the choices in terms of the key themes of: the choice of sectoral versus general emergency legislation; levels of oversight and accountability; effectiveness; and the protection of individual rights. Following this survey, it will be suggested that the selection of legal instruments and the design of their contents has been ill-judged. In short, the emergency code that is the most suitably engineered for the purpose, the CCA 2004, has been the least used for reasons which should not be tolerated.
Keywords: COVID-19, Emergency Law, Constitutionalism, Civil Contingencies, Public Health
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K33, K19, K30, K33, K42, N40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation