The COVID-19 Review Observatory (CVRO) seeks to identify, evaluate and contribute to the improvement of review by the parliaments operating in the UK of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, we are particularly interested in the extent to which, and ways in which, human rights feature and are deployed as a benchmark in parliamentary ‘pandemic review’. In this respect, we are particularly interested in understanding differences in pandemic review across the four parliaments within the United Kingdom.
This task requires us to develop a way of evaluating this review. To that end, we are developed a standardised ‘report card’ for different kinds of review (e.g. legislative debates, Committee inquiries, questions to ministers). This report card is structured around what we term the five principles of effective pandemic review. These are:
- INDEPENDENCE: The review mechanism should have meaningful independence from the reviewee;
- RIGHTS FRAMING: The review should incorporate or reflect a rights framing appropriate to (i) the rights-related issues relevant to the matter under review, and (ii) the remit and function of the review mechanism;
- EVIDENCE: The review should be based on, and if necessary generate, appropriate evidence reflecting a plurality of expertise and experience and relevant to the matter under review and nature of the review mechanism;
- PARTICIPATION: The review should enable participation by a range of participants (including the public, organisations, experts and other review bodies) appropriate to the nature of the review mechanism and reflecting;
- INFLUENCE: The review should have the capacity to influence responses to the pandemic.
These principles reflect and are influenced by existing work across evaluative studies, counter-terrorism review, constitutional law, and political science.
In the context of parliamentary review of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, these principles must be contextualised by the structure, rules, operation and nature of Parliament and its different organs as a review body. Thus, for example, the extent to which, and ways in which, the House of Commons might elicit its own evidence will not be the same as the modes of eliciting evidence in a parliamentary committee, which can initiate inquiries, invite submissions, hold oral evidence sessions, and deal in substantial depth with a particular topic on which it has thematic expertise. However, across the different parliamentary systems operating within the United Kingdom there are different business practices (i.e. practices of arranging business, assigning time to motions or debates etc) some of which give Parliament as a body a high level of autonomy, and some of which are dominated by a member of the government. These structural factors are constant—they are not a product of or unique to the pandemic, although they may be exacerbating by some of the practical challenges it has given rise to (such as the operation of hybrid parliaments).
Thus, the CVRO’s analysis of pandemic review bears these structural and constant factors in mind, acknowledging that they relate to the general strengths and weaknesses of Parliament as a review, scrutiny or accountability mechanism.