The Law of Pandemics

Infectious and communicable diseases have been affecting humans for many thousands of years and ancient populations suffered many of the diseases our modern society is inflicted with, for example a 2008 study recently concluded that Tuberculosis is at least 9,000 years old from an analysis of ancient skeletons. However, it is only since the rise of agriculture and cultivation 11,000 years ago, and the associated wider mixing of communities and establishment of trade routes, that infectious diseases have had the channels available to more readily spread across populations as a whole.


Hippocrates (credit: Wikipedia)

The word epidemic originates around 2,500 years ago and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates prominently used it in his set of books ‘Epidemics’ as an adjective to mean a disease “which circulates or propagates in a country” and its exact meaning and usage has evolved over time. The first recorded usage of the word pandemic is much later in Harvey’s ‘Anatomy of Consumptions’ (1666), its origin taken from the ancient Greek ‘pan’ to mean ‘all’ and ‘demos’ meaning ‘people/country’ and its definition as a noun is now commonly accepted to be “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population” (Meriam-Webster). Incidentally, Harvey suggested preventative measures for pandemic diseases, two of which were for an individual to “walk daily in a pleasant, airy and umbragious [shady] garden, park or field” and eat less “flesh-meat”, meaning animals.

The first detailed account of a pandemic in global history is the disease that reached and spread through Athens (believed to have originated near Ethiopia) in 430 BC, the symptoms and effect of which were recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides. It is believed to have killed one third of the population of ancient Athens. The symptoms comprised fever, inflammation of the eyes and throat and difficulty breathing, amongst other things. Whilst there has been much debate amongst historians about what disease this pandemic involved, two prominent suggestions are Typhoid and Measles.


The Plague of Justinian (credit: Devastating Disasters)

Another significant early pandemic was the emergence of the Plague of Justinian in 541 AD in the Byzantine Empire and named after then emperor Justinian I. During the following two centuries, it spread throughout the world across a number of outbreaks, likely first hitting Britain in the year 597 AD, at that time attributed to travellers from abroad and their attempts to convert pagan Britain to Christianity. A further outbreak occurred in 664 (later known as ‘The Yellow Plague’) which may have killed one third of the population. Anglo-Saxon monk-historian Bede in his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ states that this plague began on 1 May 664 and coincided with a total solar eclipse. The Yellow Plague may have been viewed at the time as an omen of dire times to come and in the following centuries may have been re-framed by religious authority figures as a communal punishment for transgression against God’s laws and due to the paganism of the British people at that time. Scientists have recently concluded that it is likely that the disease of Justinian’s Plague was caused by the same bacteria that caused the very well-known pandemic Black Death in Europe in the 14th Century.


A Black Death plague doctor (credit: Wikipedia).

The European outbreak of the Black Death began in Sicily in October 1347 and, prior to the start of the Black Death in England in 1348, the vast majority of English epidemics since 664 (in the wider sense) were famine-sickness related and were a relatively common but less impactful occurrence. The Black Death’s impact was like nothing the world had seen and is believed to have entered Britain in August 1348 and quickly spread to London by the end of the year, leading Parliament to be prorogued on 1 January 1349. The disease ravaged the country and drastically thinned the population by an estimated 30-40% over the course of 1349. In response to a sudden loss of workers, King Edward III issued the Ordinance of Labourers on 18 June 1349 which stated that all those under the age of 60 must work and employers could not pay, nor employees demand, wages that exceeded pre-Black Death (1346) amounts. Generally seen as ineffective in a practical sense, Parliament tried to reinforce the Ordinance by passing the Statute of Labourers in 1351 which is widely considered the origin of English labour law. Again, practically this did not work because workers were now at a premium. Farm wages in 1351 were two or three times the amount of pre-Black Death wages and generally farming wages on the whole doubled between 1350 and 1450. These restrictive labour laws were also a significant factor in the cause of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 which had a number of wide-ranging impacts on Britain’s societal and class structure. Instances of the bubonic plague occurred in England (on lesser scales) throughout the next two centuries and lastly affected England in 1666. Whilst quarantining in the time of the Black Death had been followed informally at a personal level, it was not until the Quarantine Act of 1710 where the quarantining of incoming ships and crews to prevent the plague travelling from country to country was formally introduced. A number of further Quarantine Acts followed introducing various procedures and quarantine mechanisms, eventually being repealed by the Public Health Act of 1896.

A number of global pandemics have affected the UK, ranging from Smallpox across the 16th and 17th centuries, various outbreaks of the bubonic plague, cholera and influenza and more recently the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 and Swine Flu of 2009-10, amongst others. Responses to some of which have been direct and indirect catalysts for changes in English law. The response to the current global pandemic (Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)) is a prime example of such legal changes.


Global Pandemic (credit: Axios)

Particularly severe cholera outbreaks in 1831-32 brought to the forefront of people’s minds the poor conditions of sanitation in the cities of the UK. Eventually, following consultation and papers for reform, this led to the introduction of the Public Health Act 1848 which introduced a Central Board of Health whose remit was improving supplies of water, drainage and sewerage, as well as regulating the country’s environmental health with local authorities being responsible for practical implementation. Whilst this initial Act was limited in its scope, a more comprehensive Public Health Act 1875 was later passed which also required each local authority to have a medical and sanitary officer whose powers extended to isolating patients in hospital, requiring the disinfection of property and belongings, suspension of schools and temporary closure of businesses. The key principles of the late 19th Century for improving public health were adequate sewers, removal of rubbish and clean drinking water.

A particularly bad pandemic of Smallpox in 1870-1875 led to the introduction of other relevant pandemic laws of note, being the Vaccination Acts 1885, 1898 and 1907 which required compulsory vaccination. These Acts were met with much opposition as there was fiery debate at the time about the causes of infectious diseases and the effectiveness of vaccines.

Supplementing these Acts were the Infectious Disease (Notification) Acts of 1889 and 1899 which required General Practitioners and people generally to report cases of infectious diseases to the local authority; failure to do so would incur a fine of up to 40 shillings. Over the following decades, various specific health Acts were introduced, prominently among them being the 1936 and 1961 Acts which built on and reiterate the provisions of the older Public Health Acts.

The bedrock of English law relating to infectious diseases specifically is the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 which modernises and extends many of the general powers described above that appeared in the Public Health Act 1875. This Act, together with a large number of supplementary Acts and regulations, is what gives the Government the authority to take the recent actions they have in response to Covid-19 (e.g. closing of non-essential businesses). With the reorganisation of the National Health Sefvice in 1974 and 1990, the responsibility for relevant community healthcare moved from local authorities to the National Health Service although legal responsibility for infectious diseases still remained with the local authorities which made the performance of certain duties in this respect more difficult, and by whom, ambiguous.


Covid-19 (credit: New Scientist)

The most recent pandemic which is rapidly spreading across the world is Covid-19 (originating in Wuhan, China in late 2019) which as at 26 March 2020, has infected 491,180 people across the world and caused 22,165 deaths. In response to the pandemic Parliament has passed, in force as of 25 March 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020. This Act defines coronavirus to be severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2) and the coronavirus disease means Covid-19. This Act grants wide powers to the police to suspend public gatherings, to detain people suspected to be infected by Covid-19 and for the Government to intervene in a number of industries to limit the spread of Covid-19. Related regulations are The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 which came into force on 10 February 2020 which supplement the provisions of the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984. The regulations allow for the designation of certain buildings as isolation facilities and for people to be kept in isolation where there is a reasonable risk of spreading Covid-19. The Coronavirus Act 2020 has a 2 year time limit (25 March 2022) and can be extended by 6 months at government ministerial discretion, although the Act is subject to 6 monthly renewal by Parliament. It is apparent that the UK Government felt they needed the powers afforded by this additional legislation to provide an effective legal framework for its response to Covid-19. This may have been due to the out-of-date nature of the law relating to infectious diseases and public health generally, the framework for which dates back to the mid-19th Century.

Given provisions in the Covid-19 legislation to delay or prevent the eviction of residential and business tenants from their properties and supporting employers to pay their employees 80% of their wages if they cannot work due to Covid-19, it is probable that a post-Covid-19 UK will face difficult legal and ethical questions regarding the extent to which certain laws should be amended for the public good generally. There will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect on the laws regulating a number of industries and workplaces and relating to issues affecting us all. The Covid-19 pandemic and the UK Government’s response to it will hold a clear mirror up to our laws and societal structure. There will be permanent changes to both but, for the moment, it is not yet known the extent to which the Law of Pandemics will become the Law of the Land.


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BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS: Landmark Cases in Public International Law and Essays on the History of Parliamentary Procedure

Landmark Cases in Public International Law

Eirik Bjorge and Cameron Miles

Landmark PILThe past two hundred years have seen the transformation of public international law from a rule-based extrusion of diplomacy into a fully-fledged legal system. Landmark Cases in Public International Law examines decisions that have contributed to the development of international law into an integrated whole, whilst also creating specialised sub-systems that stand alone as units of analysis. The significance of these decisions is not taken for granted, with contributors critically interrogating the cases to determine if their reputation as ‘landmarks’ is deserved. Emphasis is also placed on seeing each case as a diplomatic artefact, highlighting that international law, while unquestionably a legal system, remains reliant on the practice and consent of states as the prime movers of development.

The cases selected cover a broad range of subject areas including state immunity, human rights, the environment, trade and investment, international organisations, international courts and tribunals, the laws of war, international crimes, and the interface between international and municipal legal systems. A wide array of international and domestic courts are also considered, from the International Court of Justice to the European Court of Human Rights, World Trade Organization Appellate Body, US Supreme Court and other adjudicative bodies. The result is a three-dimensional picture of international law: what it was, what it is, and what it might yet become.

Eirik Bjorge is Senior Lecturer in Public International Law in the University of Bristol Law School.

Cameron Miles is a barrister of Gray’s Inn, practising from 3 Verulam Buildings in London.

December 2017   |   9781849467889   |   640pp   |   Hardback   |    RSP: £120

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Essays on the History of Parliamentary Procedure

In Honour of Thomas Erskine May

Edited by Paul Evans

Essays PP8 February 2015 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Erskine May. May is the most famous of the fifty holders of the office of Clerk of the House of Commons. His continued renown arises from his Treatise upon the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, first published in 1844 and with its 25th edition currently in preparation. It is known throughout those parts of the world that model their constitutional arrangements on Westminster as the ‘Bible of Parliamentary Procedure’. This volume celebrates both the man and his book. Bringing together current and former Clerks in the House of Commons and outside experts, the contributors analyse May’s profound contribution to the shaping of the modern House of Commons, as it made the transition from the pre-Reform Act House to the modern core of the UK’s constitutional democracy in his lifetime. This is perhaps best symbolised by its enforced transition between 1834 and 1851 from a mediaeval slum to the World Heritage Palace of Westminster, which is the most iconic building in the UK.

The book also considers the wider context of parliamentary law and procedure, both before and after May’s time. It constitutes the first sustained analysis of the development of parliamentary procedure in over half a century, attempting to situate the reforms in the way the central institution of our democracy conducts itself in the political contexts which drove those changes.

Paul Evans is Clerk of Committees in the House of Commons in Westminster.

December 2017   |   9781509900206   |   368pp   |   Hardback   |    RSP: £85

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History of Divorce

divorce picDivorce is perhaps the civil legal issue which most grabs the attention of modern society and one does not have to look far to see high profile media coverage of celebrity divorces and the intrigue surrounding them. Many people have a personal experience of divorce, either of their own marriage or of the marriage of a close relative or friend. Given that 42% of marriages in England and Wales now end by divorce and the average duration of marriages is 11.7 years (Office for National Statistics), it is surprising that divorce has only relatively recently become easier to obtain and for many centuries was first a legal and then a practical impossibility.

In the Anglo-Saxon period in England (pre-1066), there are examples of divorces being legitimate by consent only. It was the medieval interpretation of Christian scripture by Church scholars which led to the concept of marriage as unbreakable. For example, an extract of the Bible at Mark 10:2-12 states: “What God has joined together, let no one separate”.

Until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, the law of divorce in England and Wales was governed by Ecclesiastical law and was under the jurisdiction of the Church Courts. Broadly, the Church Courts would only declare a marriage a “nullity” (and not allow divorce) with the effect that a marriage was deemed to have never existed, rather than divorced. The grounds for a declaration of nullity were that there was no consent at the time of marriage, there were other grounds of incapacity or that the marriage could not be consummated due to impotency or frigidity on the part of one of the parties. A lack of consent could be proved in several ways. If it could be evidenced that one party faced undue pressure or was insane or generally there had been a mistake, the marriage could be declared a nullity. Alternatively, if the parties were too young, they were deemed to be incapable of giving valid consent to the marriage. The age of consent for an agreement to marry in the future was a mere 7 years old and generally the age of puberty applied for actually entering into a marriage (initially set at 12 years old for girls and 14 years old for boys). The minimum age for validly consenting to marriage was equalised for boys and girls and raised to 16 years old by the Age of Marriage Act 1929, although in England and Wales, you are required to have your parents’ consent to marry if you are 16 or 17 years old.

Incapacity could be shown by the fact that there had been a previous marriage with another spouse, the parties were within a certain degree of blood relationship or a certain degree of affinity relationships. Affinity meant for example that a man who had had sex with a woman’s sister was forbidden to marry that woman. The prohibited degrees of blood relationship always included marriage between a parent and their child and the modern law prohibits marriage in a myriad of blood relationship circumstances, for example marriage to the granddaughter of a former wife until both parties are over 21 years old and where the granddaughter until 18 years old had not been in a family relationship with the potential husband.

This doctrine of nullity bears similarities to the more modern principles of annulment, whereby a marriage can be annulled for several reasons and treated as if it never existed. A marriage can be annulled if the parties are closely related, one party is under 16 years old, one party is already married, the two parties have not had sex with each other since the start of the marriage, one party did not consent to the marriage, one party had a sexually transmitted infection/disease at the time of the marriage or the woman was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage. An annulment can be applied for at any time after the marriage and the 1 year waiting period before applying for a divorce of a marriage does not apply.

The famous divorce case of Henry VIII in the 16th Century was a flexible interpretation of the Ecclesiastical law principles referred to above and was a key driver of divorce reform in 16th and 17th Century England and Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer, suggested divorce should be allowed on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, desertion or bitter opposition. Over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, several Acts of Parliament were passed permitting the divorce by wealthy nobles of their wives on the grounds of adultery and private members’ bills in Parliament became common to achieve these divorces. This avenue of divorce became open to less wealthy parties as it became common practice to bring your divorce case first in front of the Ecclesiastical Courts and which would then lead on to a petition to the House of Lords to pass the appropriate Act of Parliament. Adultery was therefore confirmed as a ground for divorce by the above convoluted process.

henry VIII divorce

The Society for Promoting the Amendment of the Law in the 1850s published proposals suggesting that divorce should be dealt with in a separate Court and should be a cheaper process. These proposals were accepted and by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes came into existence and the Ecclesiastical jurisdiction over divorce was abolished. The 1857 reforms only changed procedure and adultery remained as the only ground available for divorce. If a wife was the party claiming a divorce, she had to prove cruelty or desertion, in addition to the act of adultery by her husband.

Abuse of the new procedure by wealthy Victorian families, combined with clashes between the Government of the time and the Church, meant that further reform was slow in coming. A Royal Commission in 1912 suggested that cruelty or 3 years’ desertion should be introduced as separate grounds for divorce and that the rights between wives and husbands should be equalised. The Church was opposed to anything that widened the possibility of divorce and the recommendations of the Royal Commission were defeated in 1914. A further Royal Commission in 1923 attempted the same reforms but only succeeded in equalising the rights between wives and husbands. As a matter of practice, married couples often contrived to stage an act of adultery by the husband to achieve a divorce ‘by consent’. In 1935 a committee within the Church finally agreed to the proposals originally suggested by the Royal Commission in 1912. Further reform suggestions were delayed until post-Second World War and in 1951 a bill was presented in Parliament to permit divorce by consent after separation for 7 years. A Royal Commission argued against this proposal in 1955, however Lord Walker in the arguments of that 1955 Royal Commission dissented and suggested divorce should be permitted where a marriage had irretrievably broken down. After a further 10 years, this approach was endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was brought into law by the Divorce Reform Act 1969.

The current position is set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the sole ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This breakdown can be proved by the fact of adultery by one of the parties, unreasonable (abusive) behaviour, 2 years’ separation if both parties consent, 2 years’ desertion or 5 years’ separation if only one party consents. Originally under the 1973 Act, the parties had to wait until 3 years into the marriage before a divorce could be applied for but this period was reduced to 1 year by the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.

Since 2004 in the United Kingdom, people of the same sex have been able to enter into civil partnerships and from 2014, same sex marriages have been lawful. Whilst the rights of same sex married couples are broadly aligned with those of opposite sex married couples, there are several surprising inequalities. Notably adultery as a ground for divorce can only be used by same sex married couples as sexual intercourse is defined as being between a man and a woman and for annulment, the ground of not having had sex with each other since the start of the marriage is not available for same sex married couples.

Following several highly publicised divorce cases, senior judicial figures in England and Wales have called for reform of ‘out-dated’ divorce laws, which are now almost 50 years’ old. The current grounds for divorce necessitate the proving of fault and suggested reforms revolve around introducing the concept of ‘no-fault’ divorces, with a focus on maintaining family and children relationships, as well as achieving more through mediation processes, rather than through the Court system. A ‘no-fault’ divorce reform was introduced into by Parliament in 2015 by way of a private members’ bill but this was not passed. The UK Government’s stated position is that it will consider all the evidence for divorce reform as part of its wider reforms of the family justice system but that the Government would not “rush to a conclusion” regarding divorce reform.


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BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Landmark Cases in Intellectual Property Law

Edited by Jose Bellido

blog-IPlawThis volume explores the nature of intellectual property law by looking at particular disputes. All the cases gathered here aim to show the versatile and unstable character of a discipline still searching for landmarks. Each contribution offers an opportunity to raise questions about the narratives that have shaped the discipline throughout its short but profound history. The volume begins by revisiting patent litigation to consider the impact of the Statute of Monopolies (1624). It continues looking at different controversies to describe how the existence of an author’s right in literary property was a plausible basis for legal argument, even though no statute expressly mentioned authors’ rights before the Statute of Anne (1710).

The collection also explores different moments of historical significance for intellectual property law: the first trade mark injunctions; the difficulties the  law faced when protecting maps; and the origins  of originality in copyright law. Similarly, it considers the different ways of interpreting patent claims in the late nineteenth and twentieth century; the impact of seminal cases on passing off and the law of confidentiality; and more generally, the construction of intellectual property law and its branches in their interaction with new technologies and marketing developments. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of intellectual property law.

Jose Bellido is Senior Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School, University of Kent.

September 2017      9781509904662      416pp     Hardback     RSP: £80

Discount Price: £64

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BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS: Landmark Cases in Criminal Law & Landmark Cases in Public Law

LandmarkCriminalLandmark Cases in Criminal Law

Edited by Phil Handler, Henry Mares and Ian Williams

Criminal cases raise difficult normative and legal questions, and are often a consequence of compelling human drama. In this collection, expert authors place leading cases in criminal law in their historical and legal contexts, highlighting their significance both in the past and for the present.

The cases in this volume range from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century. Many of them are well known to modern criminal lawyers and students; others are overlooked landmarks that deserve reconsideration. The essays, often based on extensive and original archival research, range over a wide spectrum of criminal law, covering procedure and doctrine, statute and common law, individual offences and general principles. Together, the essays explore common themes, including the scope of criminal law and criminalisation, the role of the jury, and the causes of change in criminal law.

Philip Handler is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Manchester.

Henry Mares is John Thornely Fellow, and Director of Studies in Law at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Ian Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Laws at University College London.

May 2017   |   9781849466899   |   384pp  |   Hardback   |   RSP: £80

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LandmarkPublicLandmark Cases in Public Law

Edited by Satvinder Juss and Maurice Sunkin

Landmark Cases in Public Law answers the need for an historical examination of the leading cases in this field, an examination which is largely absent from the standard textbooks and journal articles of the day. Adopting a contextualised historical approach, this collection of essays by leading specialists in the field provides both an explanation of the importance and impact of the chosen decisions, as well as doctrinal analysis. This approach enables each author to throw light on the driving forces behind the judicial outcomes, and shows how the final reasoning of the court was ultimately as much dependent upon such human factors as the attitudes, conduct, and personalities of the parties, their witnesses, their counsel, and the judges, as the drive to seek legal realignment with the political developments that were widely perceived to be taking place. In this way, this form of analysis provides an exposition of the true stories behind these landmark cases in public law.

Satvinder Juss is a Professor of Law at King’s College London.

Maurice Sunkin is Professor of Public Law and Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Essex.

June 2017   |    9781849466035   |   376pp  |   Hardback  |   RSP: £80

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