SAGE to make recommendations on face covering in public on Tuesday

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Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief Scientific Officer, has confirmed that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) should be making recommendations on Tuesday about the wearing of face coverings in public.

More and more countries around the world are requiring or recommending that everyone wears face coverings in public. More details about this and why this is thought to be a good idea are here.

SAGE’s advice must be shared with the media and public as soon as it is finalised.

The Government should make wearing face masks mandatory

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Around the world, wearing a face mask in public has been made compulsory for everyone. This includes Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania states in the US, municipalities in France, Taiwan, Austria, the Czech Republic, Solvakia, Lombardy and parts of Germany.
In many countries, wearing a mask is now recommended even if it is not mandatory. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that people use at least use a simple cloth face covering when they are in public spaces. The German Ministry of Health has isssued similar guidance.
The mandating and recommending that the public wear face masks is based on the idea that wearing a mask reduces the chance of the person wearing the mask transmitting Covid-19 (“my mask protects you, your mask protects me.”).
The CDC issued its advice after reviewing recent evidence on the transmission of infections. A team of researchers led by data scientist Jeremy Howard has also carried out an evidence review to assess the effectiveness of face masks at reducing the spread of face masks. This found that:

“The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low. Thus we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies.”

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues have argued for the use of masks on a precautionary basis, despite the face that the “efficacy and acceptability of the different types of face mask in preventing respiratory infections during epidemics is sparse and contested”. There advice is as follows:

“In conclusion, in the face of a pandemic the search for perfect evidence may be the enemy of good policy. As with parachutes for jumping out of aeroplanes, it is time to act without waiting for randomised controlled trial evidence. A recently posted preprint of a systematic review came to the same conclusion. Masks are simple, cheap, and potentially effective. We believe that, worn both in the home (particularly by the person showing symptoms) and also outside the home in situations where meeting others is likely (for example, shopping, public transport), they could have a substantial impact on transmission with a relatively small impact on social and economic life.”

However, the WHO and UK are not currently recommending that everyone should wear a mask in public. This seems to be, at least partly, because they want to prioritise masks for health care workers and those who are showing symptoms of Coronavirus. However, the masks that it is being suggested the public wear are not surgical masks, but cloth masks that are different from those that are needed for healthcare settings.

Public Health England says the following about facemasks:

“Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings. Facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely in order to be effective.”

Jeremy Howard and Professor Trisha Greenhalgh OBE have launched a campaign, Masks4All, calling for guidance for and mandating of the wearing of face masks in public. In the UK, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also backed the wearing of face masks in public.

Reportedly, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which advises the government, has commissioned research on the effectivness of masks for limiting the spread of Coronavirus. There needs to be a clear timetable for that research. The research needs to be made available and a decision made about making mask wearing compulsory urgently. Unless SAGE and the government can provide a clear and compelling explanation for why face mask wearing should not be compulsory, then the UK should require everyone to wear face masks in public.

Proposed amendments to the Coronavirus Bill

On Monday, Parliament will consider the Coronavirus Bill as fast-track legislation, which the government is using with the aim of having all stages of the Bill dealt with by the Commons and the Lords on Monday.

The Bill deals with a wide range of issues relating to Coronavirus, from registering health professionals more easily to legal requirements relating to cremations and inquests. The explanatory notes to the Bill give an overview of it.

A number of amendments have been tabled by MPs. The amendments can be viewed here. I have summarised some that seem particularly important below.

  • Amendment 1 (Harriet Harman): This amendment would cause the Act to automatically expire 6 months (rather than 2 years) after it is passed, unless Parliament agreed to a 6 month extension. The amendment is backed by Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, Joanna Cherry from the SNP, Alistair Carmichael and Layla Moran from the Lib Dems and Caroline Lucas from the Greens, amnongst others. Jeremy Corbyn has put down a similar amendment (amendment 4) for the Labour Party.
  • Amendment 8 (David Davis): This removes the ability to alter the expiry date for provisions in the Bill.
  • New Clause 2 (Chris Bryant): This provides for debates to be held promptly on amendable motions (which means Parliament can pass a motion expressing a view) on status reports that the government needs to make every 2 months on provisions of the Bill that impinge most on civil liberties. It also means Parliament can terminate the exercising of powers under the Act by not approving the related status report it receives. Chris Bryant has also tabled New Clause 3, which provides for Parliament to be recalled from adjournment or prorogation to debate the 2 monthly status reports.
  • New Clause 4 (Jeremy Corbyn): This requires the Prime Minister to make, and lay before Parliament, arrangements to ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom has access to the basic means of living including food, water, fuel, clothing, income and housing, employing all available statutory and prerogative powers.
  • New Clause 5 (Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson): This requires the government to issue guidance on identification, support and assistance for victims of slavery or human trafficking during the coronavirus emergency.
  • New Clause 6 (Bob Seely): This creates a power for the Secretary of State, or relevant Minister in the devolved Administrations, to issue a direction to ferry, bus and rail operators to: (a) work together to produce a plan for the continuing provision of a resilient transport service to isolated and island communities; and (b) implement the plan to a specified timescale.
  • New Clause 7 and New Schedule 1 (Stuart C McDonald): This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult with the Chief Medical Officer or one of the Deputy Chief Medical Officers on the impact of no recourse to public funds rules on preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination. The Secretary of State must then make such amendments to no recourse to public funds rules as considered necessary in light of the consultation. There is a similar requirement to consult with the Chief Medical Officer on immigration detention and assylum processes. There is also a requirement to to end the detention of any individual who cannot be removed imminently, consistent with preventing, protecting against, controlling and providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination. The New Schedule also requires the Secretary of State to allow for leave to remain for individuals whose previous leave expires during the period in which the Act is in force, or whose leave expired in the 14 days prior to the date on which the Act is passed.
  • New Clause 8 (Munira Wilson): This requires a school or provider of 16 to 18 education that closes because of the coronavirus outbreak to ensure that its pupils continue to receive educational provision (e.g. through videoconferencing or setting assignments).
  • New Clause 9 (Munira Wilson): This significantly increases the standard allowance of universal credit, jobseekers’ allowance and employment and support allowance so that for the tax year beginning on 6 April 202: (a) an individual not in work will be awarded at least £150 per week, and (b) a couple who are both not in work will be awarded at least £260a week. It also provides that for the tax year beginning on 6 April 2020, households newly claiming universal credit receive an advance of their first payment by default and suspends the sanctions regime for claimants of universal credit, jobseeker’s allowance and Employment and Support Allowance in the tax year beginning on 6 April 2020.
  • New Clause 11 (Munira Wilson): This increases statutory sick pay from £94.25 to £220.
  • New Clause 13 (Munira Wilson): This creates a system of statutory self-employment pay set at: (a) 80% of monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years, or (b) £2,917 whichever is lower.
  • New Clause 14 (Munira Wilson): This requires that within 10 days of the Bill being passed the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a comprehensive report outlining how the Government will guarantee provisions for social care while the Act is in force.

UPDATE: I understand Labour is in the process of putting down additional amendments.

We need Keir Starmer as Labour leader so he can fight for our human rights

Gavin Millar QC, who gave Keir Starmer his first legal job as a pupil barrister, said about him “Keir’s purpose when he became a lawyer was not to make a fortune, or to build a glorious reputation…His purpose was the same as all of us in that generation who had been radicalised by Margaret Thatcher. We wanted to change the world, and we wanted to do it by using the law to entrench stronger human rights and civil liberties. That was absolutely true of Keir too.” Yet Keir was also driven by social justice, wanting to reduce inequality and lift people out of poverty.

Keir’s passion for the civil and political rights grew out of his commitment to economic and social justice. Without effective civil and political rights, economic and social rights can be sidelined.

As one of the leading barristers of the day, Keir Starmer was successful in protecting his client’s rights. He defended the miners, print workers at Wapping, the dockers in Dover, the poll tax protesters and environmental activists, as well as across the globe, and particularly in the Caribbean. Starmer’s research laid the groundwork for the Human Rights Act by showing how the previous hands-off approach to civil liberties was not working. He made contributions to developing the law in a whole range of areas of human rights, including the law of armed conflict, protest law, LGBT rights, fair trial rights and the prohibition of torture. As the Labour Government did all it could to bring peace to Northern Ireland, Starmer advised the Police Service of Northern Ireland on human rights compliant policing. As Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer prosecuted Stephen Lawrence’s killers and reformed the approach to prosecution of rape so as to secure more convictions.

Starmer knew the world could not be changed through law alone and in 2015, he was elected as an MP. His presence in the Commons could not be more timely. Starmer’s legal background could come in more handy than ever if he is elected as Labour Party leader. Not only will he need to forensically unpick the government on how it handles everything from Brexit to the floods, but he will need to persuade the public why they should be concerned by the Tories’ attacks on human rights and democracy.

An indication of the government’s disdain for human rights and the rule of law was its attempt to progue Parliament to prevent votes on Brexit. That was stopped by the Supreme Court but now that the Tories have been re-elected with an 80 seat majority they are set on getting their revenge. This was presaged by the Conservative manifesto that promised a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission”. Its remit is to include the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts, the royal prerogative, the House of Lords, “access to justice for ordinary people” and the Human Rights Act. What this really means is undermining democracy, attacking the independence of the judiciary, reducing the ability to challenge government decisions and removing human rights protections.

If appointing a Home Secretary who has expressed support for the death penalty was not enough, Boris Johnson’s recent cabinet reshuffle showed his direction of travel. He elevated Suella Braverman to the role of Attorney General, who recently wrote that “our Parliament must retrieve power ceded to another place – the courts”. The Tories want to command a tyranny of the majority – although due to the British voting system it is actually a minority – to trammel over the rule of law and human rights.

The Tories are attacking our human rights on at least five fronts. Firstly, they want to limit the scope of judicial review – such as that of prorogation or the plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Judicial review allows the government to be challenged in the courts if it exceeds its powers or takes decisions unlawfully, such as not taking into account factors that they are legally required to consider. Secondly, the government wants to undermine the independence of judiciary so that judges are less likely to take decisions it does not like. Thirdly, the government is looking to take us out of the European Convention for Human Rights, so that we have fewer rights to protect us from the government. Fourthly, the Tories have been reducing legal aid, so that fewer people are able to afford to challenge unfair decisions in the courts. Finally, the government has been looking to undermine the BBC and other media organisations, so that when they act illegally or wrongly there is less scrutiny of what they are doing.

The Tory onslaught on democracy and the rule of law needs a forensic, passionate and steadfast opposition. Keir Starmer’s record of standing up for human rights and justice makes him uniquely placed to do this. If he is elected Labour Party leader, he will expose the flaws in the Tories arguments and explain why we must all fight to protect our human rights. The issues of democracy and the rule of law fuse politics and law. Keir Starmer has the legal and political skills to take Boris on over these issues and defend our rights. His time is now.

A plan for decency in the Labour Party

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Labour prided itself as a party of anti-racism, feminism and decency but this reputation has been tarnished in recent year. We need to take decisive action to ensure that decency prevails in the Labour Party, that we foster a culture of inclusion and respect, and drive antisemites, islamophobes, racists, misogynists, harassers, trolls and their ilk from the Labour Party.

This document sets out a plan for decency in the Labour Party. It includes measures to fight discrimination and harassment in the Labour Party. The measures aim to ensure there is effective action to deal with unacceptable behaviour, education programmes to identify and prevent it.  This includes putting in place the policies, procedures and governance that are needed to deal with this problem.  

The core components of the plan are set out here. In summary, the 15 proposals are:

  1. An independent disciplinary process
  2. Retaining the IHRA definition of antisemitism
  3. A clear deadline for dealing with complaints
  4. No time-limits for making complaints
  5. Same-sex complaint handlers
  6. Indicative tariff for disciplinary sanctions
  7. Punishment for undermining the disciplinary process
  8. Regular reporting on the performance of the disciplinary purpose
  9. A ban on sharing of platforms with those have been expelled
  10. Mandatory diversity, equality political education and ant-bullying training
  11. Requiring all Labour candidates and elected representatives to confirm their commitment to non-discrimination
  12. Audit of past cases
  13. Better engagement with representatives of discriminated against groups
  14. A clear communication programme
  15. A plan for promoting an open, respectful and democratic culture in the Labour Party

This is an area where it is important to take care to ensure that there are not unintended consequences from the policies adopted. The plan therefore aims to set out a framework for action in this area but will need to be subject to revision and refinement to make sure it is as effective as possible, taking into account feedback. It also in some cases sets out different possible options for consideration.

Labour’s new disciplinary processes for discrimination and harassment should be designed and developed with the close involvement of BAME Labour, Labour Women’s Network, Jewish Labour Movement, the Labour Party Irish Society, Chinese for Labour, Christians on the Left, Disability Labour and LBGT Labour. These groups have invaluable knowledge of the discrimination their members face and Labour should make sure it draws upon it.

The plan is in large part based on Jewish Labour Movement’s (“JLM”) submission to Labour race and faith manifesto consultation and the ten pledges that the Board of Deputies of British Jews is asking Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates to support. However, it sets out greater detail how the proposals by JLM and the Board of the Deputies could work and attempts to address some of the concerns raised about them. In particular, the following concerns are addressed:

  • The concern that having an independent provider would compromise party democracy is addressed by suggesting that the independent provider could work to guidelines agreed by Labour’s National Executive Committee (the “NEC”).
  • The concern that lifetime bans may not be appropriate on the basis people should have the opportunity to reform has been addressed by making lifetime bans optional.
  • The concern about preventing supporting, campaigning for or providing a platform for those who have been suspended for discriminatory conduct should not prevent supporting the challenging of disciplinary decisions because the NEC guidelines have not been applied correctly or there has been an error of fact in the decision.
  • The concern that the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (“IHRA”) definition of antisemitism could prevent legitimate criticism of Israel or campaigning for the rights of the Palestinians is addressed by proposing that Labour retain the statement made by the NEC when it adopted the IHRA definition in full with all examples that this does not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.
  • The concern that Labour should not be prevented from engaging with smaller groups within a minority group has been addressed by making clear that this is meant to only prevent engagement with fringe groups that are not committed to non-discrimination, such as Jewish Voice for Labour.

Some have also suggested that Labour should wait until the results of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“ECHR”) has reported on its investigation into the Labour Party and antisemitism. However, it cannot be right that Labour should sit on its hands rather than make changes to deal with the problems with its disciplinary process. We should want the ECHR to report acknowledging that Labour had taken action on this issue not saying that we have done nothing while it has been investigating. There has been no indication from the ECHR that Labour should wait for its report before making improvements to its disciplinary processes.

This document is meant to a contribution to the discussion about what Labour does about antisemitism, bulling and harassment. It does not purport to have all the answers but is meant to be an organic document that will develop over time. It is put forward in good faith and it is hoped everyone will engage with it on that basis. Hopefully, all the Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership candidates will support all or some of it, especially as it aims to address concerns that some of them have raised.

The presence of antisemitism, discrimination, bullying and harassment in the Labour Party is a stain on it. It is time to deal with these shameful circumstances, working closely with Labour’s affiliates, with decisive, considered, and firm action. This plan sets out how this could be done.

To read the full document click here.

Summary of proposed changes to the Society of Labour Lawyers constitution

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The Society of Labour Lawyers (SLL) executive committee is consulting on revisions to the SLL rules/constitution. Here is a summary of the key proposed changes:

  • Adding the upholding of equality and the furtherance of democratic socialism (rather than just socialism) to the objects of SLL.
  • Allowing people who are qualified in jurisdictions outside the UK to be members of SLL.
  • Giving the executive committee the power to expel members who have engaged in racist, sexist or similar behavior or of breach of Labour party rules or codes of conduct or have otherwise brought the Society into disrepute.
  • Requiring groups to have annuial general meetings that elect two co-chairs and a management committee. At least one of the co-chairs must be a woman.
  • Making the groups and branches of the SLL at any one time those identified as such on the SLL website. The proposed changes provide that there shall normally be Groups for Access to Justice, Rights at Work, Housing, Family and Child Care.
  • Providing that there may be Branches in any geographical area where there are sufficient numbers of interested members.
  • Allowing the executive committee to at its discretion define any group or branch as currently inactive and that neither co-chair shall be entitled to attend the executive committee.
  • Reducing the number of vice-chairs from one to two and removing the role of assistant secretary.
  • Providing that at least one of the chair and vice-chair shall be a woman and that at least one of the secretary and treasurer shall be a woman.
  • Reducing the number of “block” elected executive committee members from 7 to six and requiring at least 3 of these to be women.
  • Requiring at its first meeting in each year the executive to allocate roles among the six elected members and co-opted members including the roles of Membership Secretary, Women’s Secretary, Publications Coordinator and Website Editor.
  • Providing that the executive committee may appointment an advisory committee comprising such persons as the executive committee shall decide to assist SLL in respect of parliamentary liaison.
  • Allowing the returning officer to amend or waive electoral requirements provided in the constituition other than in respect of the number of officers and number of elected executive committee members and gender balance with the approval of the AGM.
  • Providing that SLL shall not affiliate to or engage with any Labour Party bodies other than the Socialist Societies Executive nor participate whether in respect of nomination or voting in any elections other than for the Socialist Society NEC seat and the Socialist Society Executive save that individual members of SLL may campaign to support Labour Party endorsed candidates in parliamentary elections.

You can download a blackine showing the proposed changes to the SLL rules/consitution here.

The consultation period is open until 10am on Friday 17th January 2020, and all comments and suggestions are welcome.

Please send any comments to