By Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Health Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
The European Union has been widely criticised for its response to the outbreak of pandemic coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020. Still distracted by Brexit and, more recently by the Turkish migrant crisis, EU leaders were caught off guard by the rapid spread of the virus, initially into Italy. Member states took actions into their own hands, imposing border controls, banning exports of protective equipment and, later, banning mass gatherings, closing schools, and instituting lockdowns, while the EU appeared to be a largely impotent bystander.
By Robert Craig, PhD Candidate and Tutor in Law (University of Bristol Law School)
This post analyses the legal provisions that accompany some of the restrictions on movement of individuals announced by the Government. The movement restrictions themselves are vital to the protection of life in the current crisis and must be adhered to by all persons. The current Government guidance setting out these and other restrictions can be found here. Legal scrutiny of the associated regulations is warranted but should not be taken to question the undeniable imperative to follow that guidance.
Legal and policy responses to COVID-19 rest on and express the balance of different basic values and principles. Earlier and current regulatory approaches bring into sharp relief how liberty must be understood and weighed against other values. This is for the sake of liberty itself, but crucially too for other compelling aspects of social justice.
Emergency powers and pandemic ethics
COVID-19 is a global problem, albeit one that governments across the world have been approaching differently. Over the past weeks we have seen fast changes in policies as different countries have sought to anticipate and respond to the extraordinary scale of the challenges that we face and which lie ahead. (more…)
Roland Barthes was never particularly interested in the law. Were he alive today, however, it is hard to imagine that he would be a strong supporter of a regime like investment arbitration – a system which, in spite of its best original intentions, has long been exposed by its critics for the lack of balance in rights and obligations and the abuse of the mechanism to increase the already disproportionate power of multinational corporations vis-à-vis the state where they invest. However, his literary production can nonetheless serve as a model for inquiring on aspects of the investment arbitral regime that remain somehow at the margins of the scholarly critique.
In his essay “Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers” (1971), Barthes theorised an imaginary contract between teachers and students, with specific tasks and expectations brought into the contractual relationship by both parties. Barthes’ teachers are neither mere providers of information nor simply the means used by the school to educate students: instead, they are at once erudite, educators, mentors, instructors and tutors. The term magister may be more appropriate to define Barthes’ teachers for they carry the burden to not only instruct on specific tasks, but also to represent schools of thought, and to act as guides, almost gurus, towards enlightenment, knowledge, and skill. They are vested, in other words, with the duty of developing the community they guide; and, rather than self-conferred, it is a duty given to them by such community. (more…)
Debates on alcohol policy are necessarily complex and controversial, and a complete consensus on how we should regulate this area will not be achieved. Like other lawful but regulated products, alcohol presents benefits and harms that may be understood from ranging perspectives. These include views based in cultural, economic, ethical, historical, legal, medical, population-based, religious, and social understandings. Of necessity, outlooks on alcohol policy and the role of regulation therefore vary both within and across such differing sources of critique. The values—positive and negative—of alcohol at individual, familial, community, commercial, and population levels thus call for careful, reasoned, and respectful public debates.
Even within the context of public health analysis, we cannot just look to scientific studies to inform and determine policy: we are required to consider forms of ‘evidence’ from different disciplines and sectors. This is well explained in a recent publication by the Health Foundation, with papers applied to child obesity but with lessons that are generalisable across health policy. However, for many working in public health, or members of wider communities who have interests in what makes good health policy, challenges emerge in relation to the conduct of public debates: often care, reason, and respect are replaced by simplistic slurs and assertions. And in this context, accusations of nanny statism are a key and persistent example. (more…)
Public health is proudly an evidence-based field. But evidence without values cannot tell us what we should do.
We need public health ethics if we are to understand and explain, by reference to the classic definition of public health advanced by Winslow, what we, as a society, ought to do to assure the conditions in which people can enjoy good health and equitable prospects for health. Using the ‘organised efforts of society’ to protect and promote health and well-being is an ethical goal—indeed, as many of us would argue, it is an ethical imperative. And to be achieved, it requires law and policy. To evaluate when threats to health warrant a public health response, scientific analyses must be complemented by matters such as the balancing of values, an assessment of the relative merits of different possible interventions, an appreciation of the likely risks and impacts of intervening, and a sensitivity to political and cultural contexts and realities. (more…)