Government urged to restore rule of law elements lost in COVID-19 emergency

A screen capture of QLS President Elizabeth Shearer addressing the parliamentary Economics and Governance Committee from hotel quarantine.

It was time to restore elements of the rule of law suspended because of the COVID-19 emergency, a parliamentary committee was told yesterday.

Queensland Law Society President Elizabeth Shearer, appearing at a public hearing before the parliamentary Economics and Governance Committee, said fundamental human rights had been restricted by the emergency legislation and it would be inappropriate to allow this to continue for the two-year period proposed by the Public Health and Other Legislation (Further Extension of Expiring Provisions) Amendment Bill 2021.

President Shearer appeared by video-link from hotel quarantine, after returning from a visit to family overseas for compassionate reasons. As the subject of a quarantine direction, she has personal experience of detention in a hotel room, unable to step outside the door and with no access to fresh air for 14 days, despite being fully vaccinated.

“Legislation was passed, urgently in an emergency period, which imposed significant restrictions on fundamental human rights such as the right to freedom of movement and the right to enjoyment of property, and the right to humane treatment in detention,” President Shearer said.

“The usual system of checks and balances has been suspended. Effectively, the rule of law has been suspended – because a range of decisions of executive government have been put beyond challenge.”

She advocated for better scrutiny and oversight relating to COVID-19 legislation and executive decisions, particularly in relation to the impacts on human rights, and said it was time that some important elements of the rule of law were re-instated.

If the emergency laws were extended as proposed by the Government, this lack of scrutiny would be allowed to continue for more than two years, which was inappropriate.

The Chair of the Succession law Committee, Angela Conford-Scott, and the QLS General Manager – Advocacy, Guidance and Governance, Matt Dunn, also addressed the committee.

President Shearer also told the committee it was important that, during lockdowns, lawyers were able to attend to their clients in residential aged-care facilities, hospitals and disability accommodation.

“Under earlier health directives legal practitioners were permitted to visit clients in these settings,” she said. “Currently, they are not. The provisions allowing for the remote execution of wills has expired.

“The effect of this is that a lawyer cannot attend upon a person living in one of these settings to take instructions for and arrange the execution of a will. This is a serious and urgent issue that requires immediate remedy.”

President Shearer also called on the Government to ensure there were appropriate protections in place for the data obtained from ‘check-in’ apps; specifically in regard to law enforcement agencies accessing this data. She suggested that, if privacy concerns were raised and people became concerned about how their data was being used, the more reluctant they would be to use COVID-19 check-in apps.

Read the full QLS submission to the parliamentary Economics and Governance Committee.

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2 Responses

  1. This is great to see and a promising start. The legal profession has been all but silent in response to these egregious power-grabs by executive governments across the country.

    Let us hope our Victorian counterparts rediscover their spines as well.

  2. JP is right. The so-called leaders of the legal profession have been all but silent in the face of massive executive power grabs. So, this gentle submission from Pres Shearer stands out as extraordinary.

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