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Justice chancellor: Fear the coronavirus rather than violating restrictions

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise Source: ERR

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise says that some restrictions are necessary after the emergency situation the Estonian government imposed on March 12 ends on Sunday, adding that while it was not yet clear precisely what these would be, the public need not fear being punished for violations, though they might better heed the risk of the coronavirus.

Madise was making her comments in the light of a recently passed set of legal amends which have received criticism for handing too much potential power to state agencies and away from the Riigikogu and even the government itself. Madise also noted that the publicity had at least brought some people more up to speed on the way in which Estonian statecraft has always worked, pre-, during and post-emergency situation.

"We will probably know on Saturday what restrictions will apply," Madise said on Friday's edition of ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera".

"Be it in the afternoon or the evening, we'll see. These restrictions are being imposed, just as journalists have already noted, under the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act. Everything that has been reported before, I think is correct. And for my part, I would like to emphasize that people should not be afraid of any punishment that comes with violating restrictions, but unfortunately, it is still worth remaining apprehensive about the risk of [coronavirus] infection.

As to whether the restrictions still in place after the emergency situation expires at midnight on May 17, Madise said that: "All restrictions and laws in general are needed precisely when someone's rights need to be restricted. The point now is that, in order to prevent a new outbreak, distance must continue to be maintained, just as [head of the Health Board's emergency medicine team] Dr [Arkadi] Popov explained, and some other restrictions will be continued. What exactly these are, we will know when the government imposes them and when the Health Board in turn imposes its own restrictions. After this, you can also start to see if they are proportionate, which in reasonable language means that the restriction be as mild as possible, and at the same time severe enough to be of benefit."

"Legally, these requirements have been formulated so far, and they will remain in place. Distance must be kept with strangers, you can move together with your family members both at home and abroad. And, of course, the fact remains that if you feel sick, you need to check that it is not a coronavirus, stay home, keep your distance. So it is reasonably worded and there is a clause that, unless it cannot be reasonably guaranteed."

"This is, again, a situation where it is very difficult to say exactly what is the right way to go, since we will know in a week or two how today's system of restrictions, and how public behavior affects the infection rate within that system. That is why, to my knowledge, timetables have also been set, where some of the restrictions have already been lifted and will be phased out," she added.

The chancellor, part of whose role involves representing the Estonian state at Supreme Court hearings, also noted that those who feel a precept from the Health Board (Terviseamet) or the government itself could write to her, or, if the matter was more serious, recourse to an administrative court in Estonia. The latter route does not require legal representation and the state fee is quite small, she said.

If, for instance, a company finds its facilities closed down, with workers sent on quarantine and tests, the company could apply for preliminary legal protection – something which is the norm in state life in any case.

Madise said that one positive from recent events was that a lot of people have discovered more about how the Estonian state works.

As to whether a more authoritarian environment was on its way in future, Madise said that she was afraid many of these claims were more emotion-based than content-based.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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