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Thursday, 7 May 2020

CoronavirusThe world faces a crisis on a scale not seen for generations, and in just a few weeks, the lives of millions of people have changed dramatically. In addition to the physical health risks for those infected, the outbreak of a pandemic has led to widespread feelings of stress, anxiety and uncertainty across populations. Separation from loved ones, loss of freedoms, and uncertainty around public health and the economy will have a heavy impact on emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, the global measures taken to mitigate the rise of COVID-19, in particular relating to social distancing and isolation, are likely to affect many aspects of society and how we live our lives for years to come.

The Response from Cambridge

As well as focussing on eradicating the disease, researchers at the University of Cambridge are working hard to understand exactly how people will be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, now and in the future. There is great strength and breadth in the research happening across Cambridge – it spans disciplines and timeframes. Some outputs will have immediate impact whilst some will mitigate the long-term effects of the virus, and offer local, national and global solutions to the crisis.

The Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge has a centuries-long tradition of being at the forefront of legal scholarship and, through the rigorous, cutting-edge legal research conducted by members of the Faculty, of making major contributions to the formation and development of legislation and public policy in the United Kingdom and beyond. This year, the Faculty of Law at Cambridge ranked second in the Times Higher Education World Rankings, preceded only by Stanford.

The Cambridge Law Faculty is committed to supporting academic research around the legal and social impacts of COVID-19, and to help shape public policy in these fields. Current restrictions intended to combat the spread of the disease and its reoccurrence are widely understood as essential, but they also raise a diverse range of important legal questions. Those questions relate to matters including the relationship between the individual and the state, the capacity of Parliament and the Government to place restrictions on individual liberties, the protection of legal rights in these unprecedented circumstances, and the role of law in terms of both regulating and facilitating potential responses to the pandemic. These are fundamental questions that are of both immediate importance and which will bear upon the longer-term reshaping of society in the wake of the present crisis.

Research Projects and other Covid-19 related initiatives in the Faculty of Law

The Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences is actively involved in the response to COVID-19. Members of the Centre have recently published an article on rationing, and also created a publicly accessible compilation of key literature.

The compilation has a UK / European focus, and is intended to complement the very useful US compilations that are accessible via portals such as:

In addition, Dr Kathy Liddell has been appointed to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG Clinical Ethics Advisory Group.  Kathy is also leading research into 'Deprivation of liberty during the Covid-19 pandemic: special issue of wandering patients with dementia and care home management' - a study which aims to explore the legal implications of restricting wandering patients to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including the impact of public health powers entailed by the Coronavirus Act 2020. Key collaborators on this work are Orna Clark, Head of Mental Health Law, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHSFT, Dr Ben Underwood, Consultant Psychiatrist, Deputy Medical Director CPFT, Dementia Clinical Lead for CRN Eastern, Dr Julian Huppert, Deputy Chair and Lay Member, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, and Andrew Sagar, Research Assistant, Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences, Faculty of Law.

​​James Parish and John Liddicoat are currently researching the compulsory licensing and Crown use powers found in the Patents Act 1977. They expect these provisions are (or will be) of importance as the UK Government seeks to expediently navigate patent rights protecting medical supplies, including PPE, ventilators, face masks, hand sanitiser and even a vaccine. They propose a fresh reinterpretation of the legislation in light of the crisis. Moreover, they draw specific lessons from intellectual property legislation enacted during the World Wars, which, unbeknownst to many experts, is still in force. During the wars, the Government expediently authorised hundreds of parties to use patents – without authorisation from the patentee – necessary for the public interest. The procedures during the wars demonstrate that a balanced approach to respecting patent rights whilst using patented inventions without consent can be achieved. This research is ongoing and is likely to be completed by the end of the month. It will be of value to policy-makers, IP academics, patent practitioners, and public health experts.

Laura Bradford, Affiliated Lecturer & Senior Research Associate in the Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences, is working on a project entitled 'COVID-19 Mobile Contact Tracing Apps: A Comparison of Regional Data Protection Regimes'. This comparative study looks at the interaction between emergency efforts to track virus exposure and different regional data protection regimes. The first paper analyses regulation of mobile platform technology and associated applications in Europe and the United States, including (a) whether encrypted exposure data is personally identifiable information and (b) for what purposes public authorities and commercial entities may process exposure data. Somewhat counter-intuitively, we find that the comprehensive approach of the GDPR facilitates automatic tracing of disease exposure when compared to more limited data protection regimes in the US.

Dr Felix Steffek, University Senior Lecturer and Director of the Centre for Corporate and Commercial Law is speaking and publishing on the legal responses to COVID-19 countries have taken in the area of corporate insolvency law. This includes contributions to a comparative insolvency law conference in Hong Kong and an analysis of the German emergency legislation relaxing various elements of corporate insolvency law. In addition, he serves as Senior Consultant to the OECD's workstream on 'Digital Transformation for Access to Justice'. A particular focus of this project is on the use of technology to deliver legal services and access to justice during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Henning Grosse Ruse-Khan, Co-Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law, has written a short paper/blog-post analysing the global access to medicines implications once treatment for COVID-19 (such as a new vaccine, or the use of existing, re-purposed drugs) becomes available.

This has specific implications for the UK as (in 2005 as an EU Member State) it opted out of a WTO mechanism designed to allow importation of medicines should domestic manufacturing capacities be insufficient. Whether that mechanism may now, nevertheless, be available is one of the legal issues Dr Ruse-Khan is looking into. The blog has been published at the EJIL: Talk! Blog, and also on the LCIL site.

Dr Brian Sloan will be speaking on 14 May at an online seminar organised by the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights entitled 'Disability in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic', considering how the COVID-19 pandemic has led to far reaching changes to the law affecting disabled people in the UK, from ‘shielding’ the vulnerable to changes to legislation under the Coronavirus Act 2020. Dr Sloan will be speaking on the topic ''Easing' Duties and Making Dignity Difficult: COVID-19 and the Care Act 2014'.