Updated: Jan 14
One of the topics in our recent series of web workshops was entitled ‘Coronavirus and Human Rights: Striking a balance’. All three of the workshops on the topic produced some interesting discussion about whether governments around the world were getting the balance right between safeguarding both public health and human rights.
One of the themes for discussion was the way in which the criminal law has been used to enforce measures which have been introduced to control people’s behaviour and private life during the past few months. There have been obvious examples of this – certainly in the United Kingdom. During the workshops, we discussed whether any articles of the European Convention on Human Rights have been engaged by these measures, and the way the laws and regulations have been enforced.
Pandemic or not, people are people, and they will do the kind of things that people do. Pandemics do not stop love and they do not stop people falling out of love. And, when those things happen, people will do things that they have always done, regardless of what the law may say. Let me give you a couple of very recent examples.
At the end of last week, a Scottish guy called Dale McLaughlan bought a jet ski. Apparently, Mr McLaughlan had never ridden a jet ski before, but he bought it for a reason – he wanted to see his girlfriend, who lives on the Isle of Man.
For anyone who does not know about the geography of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man – with a population of around 85,000 - is an island in the Irish Sea, situated between the south west of Scotland/north west of England and Northern Ireland. The Isle of Man is famous for a couple of things. It was the first national legislative body to give women the right vote in a general election, in 1881. It is also home of the world-famous Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle race. And, if you are an animal lover, it has its own breed of cat – the Manx cat, which has a short (or no) tail.
But, let’s go back to the lovelorn Mr McLaughlan. Apparently, Mr McLaughlan could not swim, which adds an element of danger to his decision to make the 180-mile (290 km) trip from Scotland to the Isle of Man. He apparently thought that the trip would take him around 40 minutes on the jet ski, although in fact it took him almost four hours, because of the bad weather.
When he eventually arrived on the Isle of Man, Mr McLaughlan had to walk a further 15 miles to his girlfriend’s home. However, a couple of days later, Mr McLaughlan was arrested on the island for breaching its coronavirus restrictions. Last Monday (14th December) he was sentenced to four weeks imprisonment.
The chief minister of the Isle of Man, Howard Quayle, was clearly unmoved by Mr McLaughlan’s willingness to put his life at risk for love, given the public health situation:
“This individual was aware of the law and showed a flagrant disregard when they chose to break it, mixing in the community and potentially putting lives at risk.”
Of course, the lockdown restrictions and other coronavirus measures do not only mean that people are being kept apart. For some people, living together has become intolerable. I noticed a story from Italy this week that provides an example of this.
Towards the end of November, a 48-year-old Italian man and his wife had an argument. They live in northern Como – a region of Italy near to the Swiss border. Following the argument, the man left and started to walk southwards. In fact, he walked for around 40 miles a day (around 65 km) to a place called Fano, on the Adriatic Coast. In total, he walked about 280 miles (450 km).
The man was picked up by the Italian police at around 2am on the 1st December 2020 – and promptly given a fine of around 400 euros for breaching the coronavirus curfew regulations. According to the UK newspaper, The Independent, the man said:
"I came here on foot, I didn't use any transport,” and that "along the way I met people who offered me food and drink. I'm OK, just a bit tired.”
He was, of course, also 400 euros poorer. His wife apparently collected him and took him home. I am sure that the conversation in the car on the way back to northern Como would have been interesting, at the very least.
Find a word or phrase in the text which means: [the answers are found in the Answer Key at the end of the exercise]
1. Finding a state in which things have an equal amount of importance.
2. Protecting from harm or damage
3. To make people obey (for example, a law, rule, or obligation)
4. An adjective which means ‘relating to laws or the making of laws’
5. The state of being sad because you are without love
6. To be seized by the police and taken into police detention
7. The act of breaking a law or regulation
8. To be punished by a court for something
9. An adjective describing an action which is open and can be seen by everyone (and sometimes an action which people think is immoral or wrong)
10.A rule which means that people must stay at home (or in some certain place) between certain hours (usually at night)
1. Striking a balance
2. safeguarding (to safeguard)
© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020