Has the UK Government strained Rule of Law standards of law-making too far in its response to the Coronavirus pandemic? And how could public respect for the law be affected if these practices continue? These searching questions underlie a remarkable opinion piece in the Guardian published this week by Sir Jonathan Jones QC, who stepped down in November as the Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service. Sir Jonathan is associated with another critical Rule of Law moments of 2020, when he announced his resignation following the publication of the UK Internal Market Bill with clauses that would have allowed the Government to override binding treaty commitments and domestic law.
Sir Jonathan's piece is worth reading in full for the number of Rule of Law dimensions of the Coronavirus pandemic that it raises, including the need for legislation to be clear, accessible, and to avoid 'important changes to the law constantly being made too late to allow for any advance scrutiny by parliament (or anyone else)'. In our Rule of Law Monitoring of Legislation project led by Dr Ronan Cormacain, we have assessed the Coronavirus Bill and numerous regulations against these standards. Another problem highlighted by Sir Jonathan is 'inconsistency between the letter of the law and guidance', which was the theme of a report by Katie Lines, a new member of our Monitoring of Legislation report. Katie's report on Government Messaging on Exercising during Lockdown was published last week.
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