Parliament call for student human rights feedback

Image Description: A picture of the Houses of Parliament in the evening. 

A Parliamentary Committee has asked students to submit evidence of their experiences during lockdown, as it looks into breaches of human rights as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has asked students to submit written evidence of their experiences during lockdown. Submissions can be no longer than 1500 words and must be submitted by the 11th of January.

“As part of the ongoing work into the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is examining the impact of lockdown restrictions on human rights and whether those measures only interfere with human rights to the extent that is necessary and proportionate. In particular, we are interested in the impact of long lockdown on certain communities.”

This appeal for evidence comes in the wake of the Prime Minister announcing a new national lockdown for England. The government has said that the vast majority of students will not be returning to University until mid-February at the earliest.

The Committee is seeking evidence concerning the following areas:

– “The impact of lockdown on university students. Have interferences with students’ right to liberty and right to private and family life been proportionate? Have the fixed penalty notices issued to students been proportionate?”

– The impact of lockdown on the freedom of religion and belief, and in particular on collective worship. Have interferences with the freedom of religion and belief been proportionate?

– Care Home and Hospital Visits. Has current Government guidance struck the correct balance between the right to private and family life and the right to life? Is it being applied fairly and consistently in practice?

– The human rights impacts of extended lockdown restrictions on those areas subjected to the most stringent, lasting, lockdown conditions. What have been the human rights impacts on family life and mental health for those communities? Are there ways that these rights might be better addressed?

– Policing of Lockdown. Is the use of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for lockdown offences proportionate, fair and non-discriminatory? Is it clear why FPNs have been issued and are there adequate ways to seek a review or appeal of an FPN? Are the amounts of FPN fines proportionate? Has there been a disproportionate impact on certain groups?

– The right to protest and lockdown. How have lockdown restrictions affected the right to protest? Has the correct balance been struck?”

Students who submit evidence can ask to do so anonymously. However, the call to evidence warns that they cannot be guaranteed anonymity, “because the Committee has the power to decide whether evidence is kept anonymous or confidential.”

Reaction from students at Oxford University has been mixed. Some students welcome the opportunity to raise their concerns about lockdown, but others are concerned that this may be a substitute for other measures called for by students.

Some students seem to be happy that the committee is collecting evidence from students, especially after new guidelines about residency were announced by Oxford University.

A Hertford student said: “It’s very true that people have seen erosion of their daily rights and liberties as a result of lockdown. This is seen clearly in students having to go in-depth about issues within families or individual mental health issues to be allowed back in a way that for many must have felt borderline invasive.”

However, other students are not convinced that their concerns will be adequately addressed. A student at Merton said: “This seems like a low maintenance way for the government to look like they care about students without needing to implement rent freezes, lower tuition fees, or do anything else that students have been asking for and that would actually make a difference.”

“It seems odd to me that the government are asking for ‘evidence’ of the negative impact of lockdown on uni [sic] students as if students haven’t already been vocally expressing their discontent since March.”

When asked if they would give evidence, a Balliol student responded, “what’s the point?”

They went on: “Boris has never listened to students: he isn’t going to start now. This evidence will go nowhere.”


Image Credit: michael_d_beckwith