Move to extend CHO’s draconian Covid powers slammed
Scott McDougall will today appear at a parliamentary committee to argue pandemic laws restricting people’s movements now in place for more than two years “must be replaced with more transparent, accountable and human rights compatible legislation”.
No longer urgent, and with more now known about the virus and the impact of restrictions on people’s mental health, laws should now contain “sufficient safeguards for human rights” and prevent the potential misuse of power, he said.
“As a community, we have learnt about the impacts of quarantining conditions on people’s mental health, the human rights limitations arising from public health directions that confine people to their homes and the mandating of vaccines,” Mr McDougall wrote in a scathing, 12-page submission to the committee.
“Powers imposing such significant human rights limitations cannot continue without proper oversight, transparency and external review.“Otherwise, their compatibility with human rights is at question.
“The Commission recommends this Bill not proceed and instead be replaced with comprehensive, human rights compatible pandemic legislation.”
Mr McDougall said the Commission had been “very careful” not to undermine public health measures and was generally supportive of the pandemic response, despite no access to relevant evidence or expertise driving the measures.
But there was “diminishing justification” for continuing the current approach and, at a minimum, the government must clarify how the Human Rights Act applies to the CHO’s decision’s to make public health directions, he said.
“Any limitations on rights should be necessary and proportionate, and the justification for those limitations should be backed by evidence”, he argues.The Bill will again extend temporary amendments to the Public Health Act, due to expire on April 30, to October 31.
They allow public health directions restricting movement and gatherings, mandatory quarantining, self-isolation and social distancing, and allow the CHO to issue detention orders, authorise the sharing of confidential information for contact tracing and penalise those who don’t comply.
“There must be sufficient transparency in decision-making, including the publication of accessible, timely, clear and comprehensive information about limitations on human rights in a manner the public can understand,” he wrote.
“The Commission suggests this is a key part of the current framework which must be improved.
“For example, public health directions made by the CHO are not accompanied by a statement of reasons or analysis of human rights limitations.”
He argues there “should be independent oversight and review of decisions made under public health directions, in particular review of decisions to detain people in quarantine”, and says it is currently “unclear” whether a person can seek judicial review of a public health direction on human rights grounds.
He said while daily press conferences had been beneficial, there must be better scrutiny by the parliament and courts too.
Mr McDougall points out the legislation, if extended, would continue to allow for mandatory 14-day quarantine periods, despite the AHPPC advising in December that the standardised quarantine period should only be 7 days.
By The Mercury
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