Following the Science? – Accountability in the time of COVID

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Henry Blaxland KC

Marc Willers KC

Abigail Holt

Professor Adam Gordon

Dr Eilir Hughes

Dr Christine Peters

This webinar is brought to you by Garden Court Chambers.

Date: Wednesday 26 May 2021
Time: 5pm-6.30pm
Venue: Online  
Cost: Free
Areas of Law: Administrative and Public Law , Civil Liberties and Human Rights , Inquests and Inquiries

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Since the coronavirus invaded our lives, it has become fashionable to refer to “the science”. But have those charged with protecting our health security, the welfare of our vulnerable and elderly family members and the wellbeing of our dedicated healthcare professionals, always fully understood the scientific principles upon which health and safety are based?

Asymptomatic and Pre-symptomatic transmission? Respired aerosols versus droplets? The crucial criteria for PPE? Infection control? The need for ventilation of indoor spaces? These are all phenomena that, arguably, do not seem to have been fully appreciated before and at all stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This seminar will examine the intersection of science and law and the crucial role of scientific understanding in legally appraising the COVID-19 pandemic. If the law is the system of rules that a particular country recognises as regulating the actions of all its members, including those in positions of power and authority, such regulation must be contingent upon respect for science.

Both Science and Justice are generated by logic and respect for evidence. Join our event to discuss evidence-based Justice.




Henry Blaxland QC, Garden Court Chambers (Chair)
Widely recognised as a leading criminal silk, Henry Blaxland QC is ranked as a Star Individual in Chambers and Partners 2021, London (Bar), Crime and as a Leading Silk in the Legal 500 2021. He was the winner of Crime Silk of the Year for Legal 500 Awards 2019. Henry is also ranked for Civil Liberties and Human Rights in the Legal 500 and always concentrated on civil liberties and human rights work.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he represented defendants in major criminal trials arising from the miners' strike, the protest against the Poll Tax and the riot at Campsfield House immigration detention centre. In 2010 he was involved in the much publicised successful defence of political activists charged with causing £180,000 worth of damage to an arms factory at the time of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. He has appeared for appellants in the Privy Council facing the death penalty. He represented a witness appearing before the Bloody Sunday tribunal, chaired by Lord Saville. Henry also practises in extradition and has appeared in the Divisional Court for appellants resisting their extradition to the USA and to Albania.

Marc Willers QC, Garden Court Chambers
Marc Willers QC specialises in the following areas: planning and environmental law; public and administrative law; civil liberties, human rights and discrimination; and Gypsy, Traveller and Roma law. He is recommended in the Chambers UK Bar Guide 2021 in planning law and environmental law and is recommended in the Legal 500 in planning law and environmental law and civil liberties. He is also the co-editor of Gypsy and Traveller Law (3rd edition, 2020 LAG).

Marc has recently been instructed to represent two NHS frontline doctors, Dr Meenal Viz and Dr Nishant Joshi, in a judicial review claim whereby they challenged the government’s guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on grounds that it did not comply with the guidance set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), particularly in relation to the guidance on when “full” PPE is required, as well as with respect to the reuse and reprocessing of PPE.  The challenge also alleged that the guidance failed properly to warn health and social care workers of the risks they face with different levels of PPE and their legal rights to refuse to work when inadequate PPE is available. Proceedings were issued but ultimately settled when the government withdrew the offending guidance and agreed to take other steps that addressed his clients’ concerns.

Abigail Holt, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Abigail's practice has long focused on health and medical-related issues. Her background is in difficult tort/negligence cases resulting in serious injury and death. Abigail's practice has a particular emphasis on: industrial accidents and pulmonary disease, especially asbestos litigation; complex medical cases; challenging causation issues; clinical negligence; complex personal injury; regulation of healthcare professionals (especially GMC & NMC); Inquests arising from industrial disease, workplace accidents or from medical settings; Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority award appeals; and Court of Protection.

Abigail’s expertise is far wider than most personal injury and clinical negligence practitioners, because 14 years of sitting part-time as a First Tier Tribunal Judge has required her to make decisions applying human rights, European law and international law. This, combined with the attack on personal legal rights symbolised by Brexit, led her to spend time working with the team of référendaires in the Cabinet of UK Advocate General, Eleanor Sharpston at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. 

Her scientific background, from studying medicine prior to switching to jurisprudence at university, her legal practice as a barrister, steeped in medical and engineering issues, as well as living in the heart of Manchester, means that she is well-placed to critique the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Abigail has seen the adverse effects of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable members of her community first-hand; from ex-industrial deprived long-standing Manchester communities; to the massively diverse global dispossessed who arrive in the UK with no support, but who are rich in legal rights. Abigail is also the Treasurer of the European Circuit of the Bar, has a Diploma in European Law from Kings College London and is knowledgeable in relation to Human Rights law and International Treaties and conventions. 

Prof Adam Gordon, President-Elect, British Geriatrics Society
Adam Gordon is Clinical Associate Professor in Medicine of Older People at the University of Nottingham and will succeed Dr Jennifer Burns as President of the BGS in November 2022.

His research interests are predominantly in how healthcare is delivered in care homes but he has also done work around peri-operative geriatrics and has recently begun to work in the field of sarcopenia as part of the Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research at the University of Nottingham.  He maintains an active educational portfolio and played a key role in developing the UK and European recommended undergraduate curricula in geriatric medicine.  He is a firm believer in bringing more clinicians into research and in ensuring that healthcare professionals and patients understand the impact of research in the real world. 

Dr Eilir Hughes, GP at Nefyn Ty Doctor's surgery in Wales
Dr Eilir Hughes studied psychology and medicine at Bangor, Swansea and Cardiff Universities. He returned to the area he grew up in 2017 as a GP and now works across two sites to provide a community health service for 4,500 patients within a rural area. During the pandemic, Dr Eilir has been working exceptionally hard to ensure his patients are protected from COVID-19, including mammoth efforts to vaccinate his community in only a few days; 1,200 patients were vaccinated in 2 days, this 'Herculean effort' was covered in the local press and on ITV News.

Dr Eilir helped to set up the #FreshAirNHS campaign group and is very active in campaigning for better PPE for healthcare workers. Dr Hughes said, in a recent BBC News article, surgical masks "just aren't good enough, given that we know the FFP3 masks give better protection". He has also been quoted in the Guardian and on BBC Cymru Fyw on the campaign and has said he will not stop until change comes.

Dr Christine Peters, Consultant Microbiologist, Glasgow NHS 
Dr Christine Peters trained in medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1998 having spent a year out studying worms and insects as an honours project. Following full medical registration, she trained in Clinical Microbiology and Virology in Glasgow and became a Consultant in 2012, first working in Oman, then Ayrshire and finally back to Glasgow. Her specialist interests are infection control, CF microbiology and ventilation in healthcare. She has campaigned with #FreshAirNHS for respiratory PPE and improved ventilation in healthcare during the COVID pandemic. 

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