COVID-19 pandemic as a challenge to constitutional legal order

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Author: Nataliya Varlamova

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-6-17-30

Keywords: abuse of emergency powers; constitutional order; COVID-19 pandemic; emergency; human rights limitations; state of emergency


The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly an emergency, it has affected almost all countries in the world and has a serious impact on the functioning of their authorities. In the current state of emergency, states have two strategies of action: to overcome it within the framework of the existing constitutional order and the current legal regulation, or to introduce a special legal regime. Today, the choice of these options for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is being actively discussed by politicians and experts. Each of them has its pros and cons. In the event of a refusal to declare a state of emergency, the usual rules and procedures are used, which also allow the establishment of additional restrictions on human rights necessary in connection with the pandemic. This approach is attractive because it prevents the spread of panic and demonstrates that the state does not intend to resort to “draconian” measures. At the same time, a formal declaration of a state of emergency fosters awareness of the gravity of the situation and mobilizes society to combat it. Furthermore, this forces the state to openly declare what restrictions it is going to introduce, substantiate the actual existence of an emergency situation and the need for the measures used, and also indicate the time frame for this regime. This creates certain guarantees that the additional restrictions imposed on human rights will not apply to normal conditions. A state of emergency usually presupposes the concentration of public authority in the body (bodies) of executive power, often specially created for a given period, which in their activities largely replaces the parliament and regional authorities. However, in a pandemic, the “level of emergency” manifests itself differently in different regions of the country, which requires decentralization of governance, the involvement of regional authorities and civil society institutions. But the establishment of the necessary restrictive measures at the regional level very often contradicts the constitutional guarantees of human rights and freedoms, which cannot be corrected by the regional authorities, which “erodes” the constitutional order. The greatest danger is the abuse of emergency powers and their use for political purposes, as well as the preservation of certain emergency measures and the introduced legal regulation after the end of the emergency situation (actually existing or officially declared).

About the author: Nataliya Varlamova – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Associate Professor, Leading Research Fellow of the Human Rights Department, Institute of State and Law, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Varlamova N. (2020) Pandemiya COVID-19 kak vyzov konstitutsionnomu pravoporyadku [COVID-19 pandemic as a challenge to constitutional legal order]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.29, no. 6, pp. 17–30. (In Russian).


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