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Final report of the Independent Commission on UK Public Health emergency powers

Final report of the Independent Commission on UK Public Health emergency powers


The report calls for improved scrutiny, legal clarity, and enforcement of UK public health emergency laws.

The Independent Commission on UK Public Health Emergency Powers has published its final report, outlining 44 recommendations to enhance parliamentary scrutiny, legal clarity, and enforcement of public health laws. Launched on October 13, 2022, the Commission aims to inform both UK and Scottish COVID-19 Inquiries and assist government planning for future public health emergencies.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

Design of Legislation

The Commission recommends refining existing laws rather than introducing new public health acts. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and the Public Health (Scotland) Act 2008 provide a useful foundation but need enhancements for better parliamentary oversight and protection of human rights. Recommendations include:

  • Restricting urgent law-making without prior parliamentary scrutiny to declared "urgent health situations."
  • Ensuring parliamentarians access advice from the Chief Medical Officer during scrutiny of urgent laws.
  • Setting expiration dates for urgent public health regulations at two months and other regulations at six months.
  • Increasing legislative information on the impact of public health regulations.
  • Requiring ministers to consider advice from National Human Rights Institutions.

Sir Jack Beatson, Chair of the Commission, emphasised the importance of these frameworks: "The design of public health emergency frameworks is crucial for ensuring effective interventions during crises while maintaining good governance and the rule of law."

Parliamentary Procedures

To enhance legislative oversight during emergencies, the report suggests:

  • Establishing a specialist committee to oversee public health emergency responses.
  • Adapting parliamentary procedures in consultation with members across political parties.
  • Improving parliamentary involvement in contingency planning, including inter-parliamentary dialogue.

Legal Certainty

The report addresses three areas of legal uncertainty experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Frequent amendments and the complexity of public health regulations.
  2. Confusion between legal requirements and public health advice.
  3. Variability in responses among the UK's four nations.

Recommendations to mitigate these issues include consolidating regulations, publishing them two days before enforcement, and implementing a traffic light communication system for future emergencies.


The Commission critically reviews enforcement mechanisms used during the pandemic, particularly fixed penalty notices. Concerns include complex offences, high penalties, and lack of appeal mechanisms. Recommendations are:

  • Introducing a formal warning system as an alternative to fixed penalty notices.
  • Using fixed penalty notices only for low-level penalties.
  • Establishing a formal appeal process for wrongly issued fixed penalty notices.
  • Training police forces on public health restrictions, emphasising the broader objectives, and providing sufficient local public health data.