Government to change Covid restrictions orders basis

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center).
Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The government is planning to change the basis on which coronavirus restrictions are initiated, using a different type of executive order than one that has been used so far in the pandemic, health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says.

The change would require an amendment to existing legislation, and follows criticism from leading legal voices over the government's issuing of general orders (Üldkorraldus) during the pandemic.

A general order, the tool the government has been using to establish its coronavirus restrictions during the pandemic so far, is a specific type of administrative act which, while its provisions can be challenged in court, can only be done so on an individual basis, with any ensuing judgment only applying to the individual who brought the case to the court.

Kiik said that the relevant piece of legislation, the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act, popularly known by its Estonian acronym, NETS, will be amended to instate a different type of order, the government regulation (Valitsuse määrus) as the main tool by which coronavirus restrictions will be put in place.

Kiik told ERR that: "The government's goal is to specify in NETS what the state's actions and possible measures are in preventing the pandemic, depending on threat level."

"Regulations of the Government of the Republic would then form the basis of various long-term measures being imposed," he continued.

"As of the present, lawyers have said that government orders should not be too prolonged and so extensive, and would be more legally correct if such fundamental and important decisions, especially long-term decisions, were taken at the level of a government order," Kiik went on, adding that the cabinet has reached consensus on this and work to amend the NETS will be prepared.

The main goal of the amendments is not to review the roles of either the government of the Health Board (Terviseamet) during the pandemic, but to create a clearer legal basis for longer-term pandemic situations.

The rationale was further: "In order to further outline possible measures at a legal level - to make the law more predictable, clearer and with a stronger mandate, since certain decisions would have been made more accurately and thoroughly by the legislature," Kiik added.

The change would not alter the fact that Covid restrictions would continue to be issued by the executive and not the legislature, but leading legal figures, including justice chancellor Ülle Madise and, more recently, Supreme Court justice Ivo Pilving have criticized what they called a too-wide use of the general orders in imposing restrictions in the corona crisis too widely.

Kiik noted that certain individual decisions may still need to be made via general order, even after the legislative amendment.

Kiik also said that the Health Board's right to set different restrictions and, if necessary, close different institutions, should remain intact.

The legislative amendments to the NETS will reach the Riigikogu in February, Kiik said.

The NETS was amended in May, to simplify, rationalize and speed up the cooperation between the Health Board and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and boost their powers in monitoring Covid restrictions compliance.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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