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The following concerns both the UK as a whole and England & Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved powers in a number of areas of policy. For Scotland specifically, see here.

Have any emergency powers been enacted in response to the covid-19 pandemic in your country? How long do they last, what are the provisions for extension/prolongation, what are the provisions for review?

Instead of dealing with this pandemic and its implications for the population as a public health problem, this government published the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 on the 10th of February 2020. These regulations represent a statutory instrument that covers the legal framework behind the government's initial attempts at containment and isolation of the spread of the virus. Additional regulations include changes to Statutory Sick Pay as well as changes to Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (13 March 2020).

“No person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse” is the most important and central provision of these regulations.

Closures to pubs, restaurants and indoor sports and leisure facilities were imposed via the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020.

  • Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020
    • amended on 22 April by The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
  • and further amended on 13 May by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
  • Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020]
  • Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020]
  • The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020
  • The Corona virus Act 2020

was introduced to Parliament on 19 March 2020 and went through parliament at a fast pace, passing the House of Commons without a vote on 23 March, and the House of Lords on 25 March. The Act received royal assent on 25 March 2020. The Act contains ‘ emergency powers ’ to enable public bodies to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The provisions of the Coronavirus Act are time-limited for two years that may be shortened or lengthened by six months at ministerial discretion. Following a government amendment, the Act is additionally subject to parliamentary renewal every six months. It would originally have been returned to Parliament for debate one year after its enactment.

Section 88 of the Act enables national authorities to suspend and revive, if deemed appropriate many of the Act's provisions, and section 97 requires the Secretary of State to publish, every two months, a report on the status of the non-devolved provisions.

‘Lock-down’ - exit ‘plan’

Areas covered by the Act are amongst others the National Health Service, social care, schools, police, Border Force, local councils, funerals and courts.

The Act allows the government the discretionary power to:

- restrict or prohibit public gatherings

- control or suspend public transport

- order businesses such as shops and restaurants to close

- detain people suspected of COVID-19 infection

- suspend the operation of ports and airports

- enrol medical students and retired healthcare workers in the health services

- relax regulations to ease the burden on healthcare services

- assume control of death management in particular local areas

The government stated that these powers may be "switched on and off" according to the medical advice received.

The Act formally postpones the local elections originally scheduled for May 2020 and grants the UK and relevant devolved governments the power to postpone any other election, local referendum, or recall petition until 6 May 2021.

  • The police were given the power to issue fines up to £1,000 to those who breach the Coronavirus Act 2020 by failing “without reasonable excuse” to observe the regulations of the lockdown (e.g. by gathering in groups or travelling long distances for exercise or other ‘non-essential’ reasons).

- the Act provides powers for Courts and Tribunals to use both audio and video technology in proceedings

- and, once a direction has been passed for Local Authorities to have the power to hold remote hearings.

Disability Rights UK also raised serious concerns about the implications of the Coronavirus Bill on human rights, especially the rights of vulnerable groups.

Have restrictions on leaving home been imposed? How are they enforced? 

Under the regulations people in the UK were/are only allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home
  • Police have the powers to enforce the rules (e.g. through fines; dispersing gatherings)

. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government suspended our freedom of association and of assembly.

  • Closed all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
  • Stopped all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
  • Stopped all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, excluding ‘virus-adapted’ funerals

Parks remained/remain open for exercise, but gatherings were/are dispersed.

Regulations restrict the freedom of movement and the freedom to gather

  • as no one can leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse. [R.6]

This of course excluded homeless people for whom councils were meant to find accommodation. About one in 10 rough sleepers was or has been refused accommodation because they have pets.[]

  • From 11.00 on 22 April 2020 R. 6 states that no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
  • prohibit the gathering in a public place of more than 2 people, unless they are members of the same household, where the gathering is for essential work purposes or to attend a funeral. It also allows for such gatherings, where reasonably necessary, in order to move house, provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, to provide emergency assistance or to participate in legal proceedings.

Have any other new powers been granted to law enforcement authorities? (e.g. in the UK, to detain potentially infectious persons)

A main criminal offence under the Coronavirus Act relates to potentially infectious persons who refuse to co-operate with the police or public health officers, when they are required to be screened for COVID-19.

Examples of cases found to have been charged under the Regulations include:

  • Travelling from Leicester to London for a party;
  • Groups of young people in a park, drinking together, displaying anti-social behaviour, and returning once moved on;
  • Refusing to stay at home despite being advised by the police on several occasions and subsequently being found wandering around the town centre;
  • Friends driving around town for fun.

Are the authorities making new use of telecommunications or other data? 

New police tools that encourage the public to report people they suspect of breaching coronavirus restrictions.

Twenty-six of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have launched online forms that allow people to report suspected breaches of the lockdown and specifically asks the public to report people who “appear to be or are contravening the government advice on physical distancing and the stay at home measures” by entering a location and reporting the potential breach.

Information on this contribution

Contributor: Statewatch staff/Dr. Andrea Beckmann, representative of the British/ Irish section of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control

Date: Received 19 May 2020


Have any emergency powers been enacted in response to the covid-19 pandemic in your country? How long do they last, what are the provisions for extension/prolongation, what are the provisions for review?

The Scottish Government has devolved powers that govern public health services, education, policing and justice matters. The UK-wide Cornavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25 March after a fast-track through Parliament:

Co-ordination by the UK and devolved governments was carried out via the Civil Contingencies Committee (COBR) which Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, attended along with her counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland.

This Act introduced emergency legislation to enable the UK and devolved governments (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Under schedule 19 of this Act, Scottish Ministers were able to introduce ‘Regulations’ aimed at responding to the public health situation in Scotland. Devolved ministers were given further powers in several areas (health, education and justice) aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, reducing resourcing and administrative burdens, and limiting the potential impact of staff shortages on the delivery of public services. The Regulations have to be reviewed every 21 days.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 covered a number of areas including increased protection for tenants aimed at preventing evictions, temporary extension of moratoriums on diligence (which relates to the Bankruptcy Scotland Act (2016) and was aimed at short-term protection for those in debt), children and vulnerable adults, justice, alcohol licensing, functioning of public bodies, other measures in relation to coronavirus.

Schedule 4 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, (Justice) covered courts and tribunals (conduct of business by electronic means), fiscal fines, cases beginning with an appearance from custody, extension of time limits (in criminal proceedings), evidence, community orders, parole board, release of prisoners, legal aid. The use of video link for court proceedings and powers for the early release of some prisoners were included.

New criminal jury trials in Scotland were suspended on 17 March, while ongoing jury trials ran to conclusion where possible. The announcement that schools and colleges were to close came on 18 March, all of this preceeding the UK Government in these areas.

The Scottish Act requires Ministers to report on the provisions of the Act to the Scottish Parliament every two months. The Scottish Act will expire on 30 September 2020, but can be extended by Ministers by two six monthly periods, via regulations, up to a final date of 30 September 2021.

Further information available:

Scottish Parliament COVID-19 Committee evidence sessions and transcripts:

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre has provided a number of useful summary updates on Scotland’s response to the Covid crisis:

Scottish Government guidance covering main aspects of Covid-19 can be found here:

Have any restrictions on public gatherings been imposed? How are they enforced?

The Scottish Government announced restrictions on public gatherings on 12 March, with guidance published on 15 March:

Initially, public gatherings of more than two people were restricted under the Scottish Regulations.

Have restrictions on leaving home been imposed? How are they enforced?

The original Regulations (the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020) specified that individuals “may not leave” the place they are living “Except to the extent that a defence would be available under Regulation 8(4)”.

A defence under Regulation 8(4) is a “reasonable excuse” and specific examples of what is a reasonable excuse are given (for example, the need to obtain basic necessities or seek medical assistance). There remains however, some room for interpretation of what is reasonable.

Phase 1 post lockdown (the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations 2020) still requires individuals to stay at home unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’, this has been expanded to include, for example, taking exercise with members of one other household and taking take part in outdoor recreation.

The Scottish Government announced a shift to Phase 2 on 18 June 2020:

Responding to concerns about domestic abuse, on 31 March 2020, the Justice Secretary said ‘You are not alone’, and announced grants to Scottish Women’s Aid (£1.35 million over 6 months) and Rape Crisis Scotland (£226,309 over 6 months).

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 were introduced to the Scottish Parliament on Monday 8 June:

These rules set out requirements to:

  • provide your journey and contact details when you travel to the UK
  • remain in the place you are staying for the first 14 days you are in the UK except in very limited situations (known as ‘self-isolating’).
  • These measures are being brought in across the UK, with individuals expected to follow and adhere to the Scottish rules and guidance when the final destination is Scotland.

The regulations apply to people who live in Scotland and who are returning from out with the UK as well as to people visiting Scotland.

Have any other new powers been granted to law enforcement authorities? (e.g. in the UK, to detain potentially infectious persons)

The Scottish regulations include powers to:

enable Police Scotland to enforce restrictions on the closure of all businesses and venues in which activities would lead to prolonged social contact. This includes all food and drink venues for consumption on site (with some exceptions such as hospitals and care homes); drinking establishments including bars, pubs and nightclubs, entertainment venues including cinemas, theatres, concert halls and bingo halls; museums and galleries; spas and massage parlours; casinos and betting shops; all indoor leisure and sports facilities including gyms

allow businesses or services that are considered essential services, such as food retailers and pharmacies, to continue to operate but prescribe that they must take reasonable steps to ensure social distancing measures within its premises

Police Scotland have the power to enforce the rules around lockdown (and Phases of lockdown easing) as they are set out in the Regulations. A statement from Police Scotland has said that it will use its enforcement powers only as a last resort, preferring instead to engage with the public in a ‘positive and constructive tone’.

The application of legislation by Police Scotland appears to differ slightly from police actions in England:

Under the Regulations, an early release scheme was implemented in the Scottish Prison Service. This was intended to apply to people serving a short sentence of less than 18 months, with three months (90 days) or less until their release date. Those who had committed certain offences (sexual, terrorism, COVID-19-related, domestic abuse) or subject to a non-harassment order were ineligible for early release.

Although official figures suggest that in the 12 weeks from 13 March to 5 June 2020, the Scottish prison population decreased by approximately 15 per cent, numbers of people remanded in custody are relatively high (1,408 on 5 June), making up 20 per cent of the prison population.

Concerns have been expressed about the delays in release of prisoners and the conditions inside Scottish prisons.

Are the authorities making new use of telecommunications or other data?

The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Amendment Rules 2020 was introduced on 15 June 2020 to allow mobile phones and virtual family visits in Scottish prisons:

Are there instances of law enforcement authorities exceeding powers? Can you provide a summary/summaries?

A number of briefing papers relating to justice and Covid 19 have been produced by the Scottish Human Rights Commission:

Scottish Human Rights Commission have written to the Scottish Parliament, put out press releases, and given evidence to the SP Equalities and Human Rights Committee on concerns that they have about uses of emergency powers.

The Scottish Police Authority Independent Advisory Group on Police Scotland use of Emergency Coronavirus powers has been convened to examine the use of emergency powers in relation to policing: 

The Scottish Parliament Justice sub-committee on policing is also examining responses:

Liberty has highlighted UK-wide issues:

Their briefing reports also relate to Scotland.

On 8 April, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee agreed by correspondence to hold an inquiry on COVID-19. The inquiry remit is to consider:

  • what groups and individuals are disproportionately impacted by COVID 19;
  • identify what the Scottish Government and other public bodies, including regulatory and oversight bodies, need to do to ensure that measures taken in relation to the pandemic minimise negative effects on equality and human rights; and
  • examine measures taken by the Scottish Government and other public bodies and the impacts they may have on equality and human rights.

Have any restrictions been placed on the media, or instructions handed down to media organisations, regarding reporting on the pandemic?

The media has largely been used to publicise the Regulations and guidance on the Scottish Government’s response. A daily update has been provided by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister, and advisors where questions are taken from journalists.

What (if any) role has been given to the military?

The role of the military has been limited in Scotland


Concerns have been expressed about the circumstances of people seeking asylum in Scotland with a number removed from their homes and located in hotels that were deemed by support agencies as ‘unfit for purpose’. Financial support has in some cases been withdrawn or limited.

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