UK: Coronavirus Act – Questions start to appear

Individuals, lawyers & law firms in the UK are beginning to question some aspects of the Act.

We will highlight as and when we see commentary come in






Law & Lawyers Blog  looks like it’s the one to follow for daily updates on the UK act

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Coronavirus Act 2020 ~ police power ~ potentially infectious persons

Coronavirus Act 2020 Schedule 21 – Powers relating to potentially infectious persons.

The Schedule gives powers to public health officers, constables and immigration officers. The powers are exercisable in respect of  persons who are “potentially infectious.”  This post is a brief look at the police powers to direct or remove persons to a place suitable for screening and assessment – paragraph 7 of the Schedule.

Paragraphs 1 to 3 of the Schedule define various terms used in the Schedule including a definition of who is considered to be “potentially infectious.” “Public Health Officer” is defined in paragraph 3(2).


Paragraph 2 of the Schedule states

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Coronavirus ~ Guidance, Law, Policing, Lord Sumption

Prime Minister 23 March:

On Monday 23 March, the Prime Minister in his broadcast to the nation spoke of the need to “halt the growth of this virus” and pointed out that “if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from Coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.”

Mr Johnson then went on to “give the British people a very simple instruction” to stay at home. He amplified this “instruction” and then indicated that the Police were to be given powers of enforcement.

The law:

The powers arrived

Friday, 27 March 2020

Coronavirus Act 2020 – Overview

On 25 March 2020 the Coronavirus Bill received Royal Assent and became the Coronavirus Act 2020. It is a highly complex and multifaceted Act of 102 sections and 29 Schedules which passed all its parliamentary stages in just 4 days.

Details relating to the Bill as it passed through Parliament are available at Bill documents – Coronavirus Act 2020.  The government issued Explanatory Notes when the Bill was introduced into the House of Commons and also when the Bill went to the House of Lords.


The Act has 3 main aims

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Overview ~ The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020

This post considers the latest Health Protection regulations made for England. (Separate Regulations will apply in other parts of the UK).The letter of the law is in the Regulations BUT we can all do much more to fight the virus. Please do not take risks with the health of yourself, your loved ones, and others in the community.The Regulations:

The government has used powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (the 1984 Act) to make The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020

Without any doubt, these Regulations are the most draconian restrictions imposed by a democratically elected government in the long history of our nation, including during the two world wars of the 20th century.  The Regulations are detailed and, in places, complex. This post offers an overview.

Also the UK Human Rights blog has just published this

The Coronavirus Act 2020: When Legislation Goes Viral (Part One)

2 April 2020 by 

Police in Brighton prepare to enforce social distancing. Image: The Guardian

At this point, it is almost trite to say that we are living through unprecedented events. The global spread of the Coronavirus pandemic poses serious challenges to society. So far, the global death-toll has exceeded 21,000 and life as we know it in the UK has changed dramatically. In response to this crisis the Government has announced drastic measures in order to curb the spread of the virus and to support those who may be affected. Indeed, it seems that Cicero’s famous injunction to let the welfare of the people be the highest law has gained a new relevance in the age of COVID-19.

As readers of this blog will probably know, a significant plank of the Government’s legislative response is the Coronavirus Act 2020, which received royal assent on 25 March having been fast-tracked through Parliament. This substantial piece of legislation –which consists of 102 Sections, 29 Schedules and runs to just under 360 pages– is intended to deal with the various challenges that may be posed by the Coronavirus epidemic. As a result, its provisions are broad ranging, touching on areas as diverse as powers to disperse gatherings, pensions, sick pay, inquests and investigatory powers to name but a few.

Given the scope of this legislation, it would be folly for me to try and consider it comprehensively in one blog post. Therefore, this is the first of two blogposts on this subject. In this post I explore why this legislation was considered necessary and consider some general aspects of the Act. In a second post, I will explore some of the more interesting/controversial aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Why Legislate?

When the Government first produced an outline of the legislative proposals before the Bill was introduced to the Commons, at least one law and policy commentator cautioned against knee-jerk legislation and urged that consideration be given to whether existing powers may already be sufficient to deal with the challenges that might arise. In certain respects, the point is well made. For example, the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 (as amended) allows for wide ranging regulations and orders to be made for the purpose of preventing, protecting against or controlling the spread of an infection.

However, as alluded to above, the 2020 Act encompasses far broader powers than those in the 1984 Act and appears to create powers of more general rather than specific application. Importantly the 2020 Act also creates a unitary legislative scheme for dealing with the pandemic across all of the nations of the UK or, to use what seems to be a popular political term, ‘levels up’ the response.  An interesting constitutional point that arises from this is that, despite the extraordinary nature of the legislation, the drafting appears to preserve the Sewell convention, whereby most changes that may be made under the Act to any legislation dealing with devolved matters will require the consent of the relevant devolved administration.

Another option for dealing with the crisis without the need for new legislation may have been to use the powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 . Under this Act, a senior Minister of the Crown (Prime Minister, Secretary of State or Lord Commissioner of the Treasury) is empowered in certain circumstances –which are likely to be deemed met at present– to make very broad ranging emergency regulations. However, regulations under the 2004 Act must be ratified by Parliament within seven days of being made. Furthermore, such regulations expire after 30 days. Thereafter they must then be renewed and re-ratified. This means that for any power granted under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to remain in force for the duration of the crisis, Parliament would have to meet at least every 30 days. In the context of an epidemic, this simply may not be possible. On this basis, the Government appear to have decided that more enduring legislation was necessary.

The Sunset Clause

Turning to the Coronavirus Act 2020 itself, the first point to note is that, while it has more longevity than regulations made under the Civil Contingencies Act, it is still clearly intended as temporary emergency legislation. As will be seen in part two, this legislation makes fundamental changes to a range of areas of law and grants very significant powers to the authorities. However, due to the urgency of the situation the legislation could only receive the most cursory of parliamentary scrutiny before being passed. Ordinarily, legislation making some of the changes proposed would be expected to be subjected to significant scrutiny in both houses of Parliament. In this case the Bill was introduced on Monday and received Royal assent on Wednesday.

In these circumstances it was clearly necessary to place a limit on the duration of most of the Act’s provisions. To this end, Section 89 of the Act, creates a sunset clause, under which the majority of the provisions will expire after two years. However, this period may be extended by six months or shortened in accordance with Section 90. In the Bill as drafted, these were the only limitations on the longevity of the Act. In circumstances where such significant legislation would be nodded through Parliament, an unchecked legislative lifespan of two – perhaps up to two and a half­– years is a very long time. Particularly, considering the Prime Minister’s ambition to ‘turn the tide on the disease in 12 weeks’.

Understandably, this raised significant concerns among human rights groupslawyers and MPs from across the political spectrum. To its credit, the Government was receptive to these concerns and ultimately accepted an amendment, which introduced the requirement that the operation of the Act must be reviewed by Parliament every six months (see Section 98). This appears to strike an appropriate balance between the need to maintain parliamentary oversight of the significant powers created by this Act, and the concerns that Parliament may not be able to operate as normal during the crisis. Indeed, a six month review period appears to be more in line with approaches to such legislation taken in other common law jurisdictions.

Human Rights

Before the Bill was published barrister and founder of this Blog Adam Wagner produced a detailed Twitter thread in which he set out his observations on any potential legal response to the Coronavirus. In the thread, he compellingly emphasised the importance of keeping human rights values at the centre of any such response.

An important general point arises in this context. Under Article 15 of the ECHR, in times of war or other emergency threatening the life of the Nation, a Contracting State may derogate from many of its human rights obligations under the Convention. Such a course of action appears to be contemplated by at least six Council of Europe Member States as a result of the Coronavirus. In contrast, the UK Government has not yet signalled any such intention. Therefore, any action taken under the Coronavirus Act 2020 must necessarily be compatible with all of UK’s ECHR obligations in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998. In Part 2, I will explore certain aspects of the legislation for which this requirement will be of particular relevance.

In general, the drafters of the legislation demonstrate an acute awareness that any measures adopted under the Act must be proportionate. Indeed, the phrase “necessary and proportionate” appears no fewer than 48 times throughout the Act. Furthermore, the Government has explicitly stated:

The measures in the Coronavirus Bill are temporary, proportionate to the threat we face, will only be used when strictly necessary and be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation.

To support this aim, Section 88 of the Act creates an ‘on/off switch’ whereby the operation of any provision of the Act may be suspended and revived by regulations as and when the measures are considered necessary throughout the life of the legislation.

As it stands most of the provisions of the Act have been brought into force as of 25 March. The exceptions to this are provisions relating to: Emergency volunteers; modifications to Mental Health legislation; changes to the powers and duties of local authorities in relation to the provision of care and support; changes in relation to the registration of deaths and still births; and provisions relating to food supply. These provisions will be brought into force as and when they are deemed necessary. In the next post, I will consider the substantive provisions of the Act and highlight some aspects that are particularly interesting or controversial, or indeed both.

Darragh Coffey is a barrister at 1 Crown Office Row. He tweets @darraghcoffey






The Landlord Law  Blog writes


Landlords and the Coronavirus Emergency – house moves

CoronavirusA series of posts giving advice and guidance to private residential landlords during this coronavirus emergency period.

3 What should you do about house (or flat or room) moves?

No doubt people have plans to move.  However whatever those plans were – everything has now changed with the coronavirus emergency.  If at all possible those plans should be abandoned or delayed until the crisis is over.

The most important thing right now is for everyone to stay in their homes.  It is only by everyone remaining put in their homes that we will be able to beat this crisis.

In particular:

should not be moved.

In these circumstances, other parties should show pragmatism.  These things happen.

If there is really no alternative to the move

(And provided the parties are not self-isolating or being shielded), then the government have confirmed that the move can go ahead.  However, you need to take great care to observe social distancing rules – save among members of the same household.

Remember always that many people will have the virus and be infectious but will show no symptoms.  This will put you and others at risk!

The problems and dangers of house moves

It is very difficult to effect house moves, particularly where heavy furniture is being moved around, while maintaining social distancing rules. So unless only those in the same household are involved, there is a chance for the virus to spread.

Also moving furniture and effects will create a lot of dust in the air which could affect peoples vulnerability to the virus – this could be the difference between people experiencing light symptoms and serious or even fatal problems.

Remember that even some young fit and healthy people are dying.

Checkout meetings

In these unusual circumstances, it is probably best for checkout meetings not to take place and for landlords and agents to do or arrange for checkout inspections after the tenants have vacated.

If tenants are worried about this, they could take photographs or video evidence of the condition of the property at departure.

After tenants have moved out

Ideally, the property should be left empty for a while, ideally several days or a week, before any new tenants move in, to allow time for any virus on surfaces to die off.  Remember the virus can remain active for some time on surfaces.

The property should then be properly cleaned.   You will find guidance here.

If you are worried about any aspect of this, seek advice from  Public Health England.

And finally

The advice is to avoid house moves wherever possible. This is partly why the government has stopped all evictions from taking place. But if they are unavoidable (and the parties are not being shielded or self-isolating), then you should observe the social distancing rules and effect the move in a way which is least likely to put people at risk.

Landlord Law for Landlords

Are you a landlord, unsure how to manage your properties in these uncertain times?  My Landlord Law service can help you in this crisis by providing help and guidance via our special information page and giving you one to one advice in the members’ forum area. Find out more about Landlord Law.