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Samantha Ramen

Samantha Ramen

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The Coronavirus Act passes before early recess

Client Alerts27/03/2020

Another week in which coronavirus has dominated the political agenda, as the Coronavirus Bill passed through Parliament.

Essentially, the Bill (now the Coronavirus Act) formalised the powers that had been outlined on a daily basis at the Prime Minister’s 5pm press conferences.

Amongst other things the Act allows for the swifter hiring of volunteers and healthcare workers, set in place powers for the government to close businesses and events where they saw a significant public health risk, and set up arrangements for the processes of the courts to be conducted via video link.

It is a mark of how rapidly the situation continues to change that, no more than a day after the passage of the Coronavirus Act, the Chancellor outlined a significant amount of further government help, this time for self-employed workers affected by the crisis.

The parameters of the Act will now be reviewed in Parliament every six months, so that MPs and Peers have the opportunity to scrutinise whether the Government still needs the largest additions to its power ever seen in peacetime.

Immediately after the passage of the Bill was secured and the Coronavirus Act received Royal Assent, the Houses of Parliament acknowledged it had done all it could usefully do for the time being, and rose early for the Easter recess in the interest of public safety.

At time of writing, the Houses of Parliament are set to return from this recess on 21st April, but in what guise they return remains questionable.

It’s the feeling amongst MPs that scrutinising the Government at a moment of national crisis is a vital function of democracy, and so there’s significant political will being attached to returning.

Whether social distancing limits in the chamber can be maintained, hordes of MPs staff can feasibly work from home and select committees can conduct their interrogations via video link remains to be seen. Whatever the solution, it’s likely that there will be some disruption to the function of the Houses of Parliament throughout its summer sitting.

Those who are seeking to engage with MPs or who may be relying on legislation continuing to pass are now focussing on how to direct their efforts in this new reality, even as an ever-changing backdrop continues to make planning incredibly difficult.

From a personal injury perspective, it has been suggested that the starting point on the likely implementation of the whiplash reforms would come as soon as when Government and Parliament got back to some semblance of normality, and that it may take roughly six-months from this point.  

With MPs now not returning to Parliament until 21st April at the very earliest however, that normality seems a long way off at the moment.