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Human Rights in Times of Emergency: COVID-19 Taking the United Kingdom into Uncharted Territory

Stanford, B and Foster, S (2021) Human Rights in Times of Emergency: COVID-19 Taking the United Kingdom into Uncharted Territory. In: Stanford, B, Foster, S and Espaliú Berdud, C, (eds.) Global Pandemic, Security and Human Rights: Comparative Explorations of COVID-19 and the Law. Routledge. ISBN 1032010258

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Having rapidly escalated into a global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the ability of states throughout the world to respect and uphold certain human rights. In light of similar threats faced by all states on the one hand, and the similar obligations imposed upon states via international and regional human rights treaties on the other, it might be reasonable to expect states to respond to such a common and truly transnational threat in similar ways. In Europe however, which is the focus of this chapter, the response of states has been somewhat inconsistent. A small but significant minority of European states have sought to treat the pandemic as an emergency situation and as a threat to the life of the nation, derogating from some of their human rights obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The majority of European states, including the United Kingdom, have not however resorted to such measures and have instead sought to rely upon the ordinary legal framework.
Although Article 15 of the European Convention allows for derogations from the member states’ human rights obligations in times of war and emergency, and there is a growing jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) relating to the limitations of such derogations,1 previous derogations have related to cases of civil war or unrest or acts of terrorism.2 The recent COVID-19 pandemic is clearly distinguishable from previous cases in terms of its threats and the motive behind the state’s emergency measures. Yet the impact on civil liberty and the enjoyment of Convention rights is enormous and potentially damaging to both the tenets of the Convention and judicial supervision of these measures. Consequently, clarity is required in these extraordinary times. This chapter will first outline the rationale and legal framework governing restrictions to human rights, including derogations, before examining the response of the Council of Europe and the various European states (including the United Kingdom) to ascertain what similarities and differences can be identified. Given the sweeping lockdown restrictions imposed in the United Kingdom engaging numerous fundamental rights, not least the right to liberty and security, privacy and rights pertaining to free speech, questions can inevitably be raised about the legality and proportionality of such restrictions that seek to limit such conditional or limited, yet fundamental, rights. The chapter will thus explore the impact of recent emergency measures on the framework of derogations and other emergency measures in order to assess the efficacy of the supervision normally carried out by the Convention machinery.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
K Law > KD England and Wales
K Law > KD England and Wales > KDC Scotland
Divisions: Law
Publisher: Routledge
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2021 10:41
Last Modified: 09 May 2024 16:11
Editors: Stanford, B, Foster, S and Espaliú Berdud, C
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/15367
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