The Labour grandee and human rights committee chair on lockdown, contact tracing and the urgent need to protect vulnerable groupsby Alex Dean / May 12, 2020 / Leave a comment
Coronavirus has necessitated the greatest restrictions on liberty in our history. Two months in, those restrictions are only just beginning to be lifted. Handling the fallout and moving to the next phase and eventual recovery will all raise important questions for human rights. How do we protect the rights of vulnerable people and indeed the population at large?
One important voice in this discussion is Harriet Harman. Best known as a former deputy and acting leader of the Labour Party, as well as a ground-breaking feminist campaigner, Harman was also solicitor general and is now one of the most experienced figures in parliament: she is Mother of the House, having served for longer than any other female MP. In recent years she has also chaired the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which features members from the Commons and the Lords and is investigating issues such as the protection of vulnerable groups and digital privacy during the current crisis.
“We have been keeping a very careful eye” on the government’s commitment to human rights, said Harman when I spoke to her on the phone on Monday. There is “no need to trample on” them and we must wait to see what the government does. Still, they must be “careful not to breach” rights and if they do, “then surely there will be court cases” brought against them by campaigners or aggrieved parties.
As well as the fundamental right to life, the government response to this pandemic bears on “issues such as the right not to be discriminated against.” Then there are the general measures affecting the whole population: the lockdown regulations. “The important thing is to give the government the powers they need, but to make sure that there is careful monitoring of how these powers are being put into practice.”
In the first phase of the lockdown, individual police forces were criticised for misapplying the regulations. For Harman, “It’s one thing to have a position in law, but quite another to see whether or not it’s being properly implemented… as far as the police are concerned, the justice secretary did say to us that he felt the police had overstepped the mark in certain constabularies, and Northamptonshire in particular.” In one such instance, police chief Nick Adderley suggested that his officers could start to…