Updates on the COVID-19 crisis
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Marc Bloomfield
Emergency legislation to cope with the COVID-19 crisis is expected to be approved by parliament today (25 March 2020). The measures in the Coronavirus Bill 2019–21 give ministers, the police, and health and other public authorities wide-ranging powers to deal with the emergency. These vary from police having the power to force people infected with the virus to self-isolate to giving legal force to the closure of schools and nurseries.
The bill includes the provisions that had been promised by the government to protect tenants from eviction. Nearly Legal, the housing law blog, reports that there has been ‘a fair amount of criticism over how the legislation seems to fall short of the earlier promise’. In a previous blog entry, Giles Peaker, a well-known housing lawyer and LAG author, expressed his disappointment with the detail of the then proposed legislation. Peaker believes that the amendments to the Coronavirus Bill on housing possession ‘don’t do all of what was promised. By some way’.
Yesterday, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) updated its guidance on assisting firms and agencies in continuing to provide legal aid during the crisis. The new measures include accepting forms electronically in certain cases and in some circumstances waiving supervisory requirements.
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland QC, defended his decision to keep the courts running during the crisis. Yesterday, he told the Justice Committee: ‘All we are trying to do is to try and ensure we can keep a basic service going to avoid the sort of problem you can see coming down the road with a prolonged adjournment, a prolonged gap, during which we cannot function effectively as a justice system.’ Guidance issued by HM Courts and Tribunals Service states that any changes to court or tribunal hearings will be communicated ‘in the usual way’.

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