Administrative Court receives over 200 coronavirus complaints in two years

Tallinn Administrative Court.
Tallinn Administrative Court. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Since the beginning of 2020, the first-tier Tallinn Administrative Court has received at least 215 complaints related to the coronavirus. According to legal experts, the court works efficiently, and not all coronavirus complaints can be treated as a priority.

Anneli Vilu, a spokesperson for the Tallinn Administrative Court, told ERR that there are complaints from very different areas and categories. From employment relationships where dismissals set the tone to restrictions such as the obligation to isolate and those related to the coronavirus certificate.

Vilu stressed that there were significantly more applicants than the number of complaints, as several complaints had been filed as a joint complaint.

Vilu pointed out that in 2020 at least 43 complaints were filed, in 2021 at least 164 complaints and in 2022 at least eight complaints.

"There have been a maximum of 75 complainants in one complaint, and it concerned contesting the six-month validity of the recovery certificate," Vilu said.

Vilu also said that, for example, at least 48 complaints have been filed against Government Order No. 305 of August 23 last year and Order No. 362 of October 21, but there are more than 400 complainants in these cases. "There are both natural and legal persons, some people are complainers in several cases," Vilu said. 

In both cases, the above-mentioned orders concerned measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the restrictions imposed.

Out of the total 215 cases, 105 have been closed at least at first instance as of Tuesday evening.

Legal scholar: the court is based on a specific point in time, not on the current situation

Legal scholar Paloma Krõõt Tupay told ERR that if a large part of the coronavirus restrictions were to disappear in February, the ongoing lawsuits would not be affected.

Tupay said that the Estonian judicial system had proved effective during the pandemic, while in many other European countries, hearings had since ended.

ERR asked Tupay how the possible easing of restrictions in Estonia in February could affect the cases already pending and whether this could mean that the basis for different court decisions could change or disappear.

"The virus hasn't been a subject to political decisions, the virus is changing over time, and the government and other decisions must respond accordingly. The court will, of course, only assess the situation that is the basis of a particular case and request," Tupay replied.

"If we had had the knowledge we have today with the decisions we made two years ago, we might not have made certain restrictions, made them differently, or made them even more severe. But that was not known at the time. We have to also evaluate the decisions of the public authorities according to what the public authorities may have known at that time," Tupay said. 

Speaking of legal bases, however, Tupay said a number of questions may arise. "If we are talking about Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act or what the formal conditions should be for imposing these restrictions, whether they should be administrative acts or regulations. These situations can also be assessed on the basis of today's knowledge," Tupay commented.

"If we ask whether any of the legal bases on which a restriction is again imposed are sufficiently precise, whether the principle that all material restrictions must be imposed by the legislature and not by the executive has been complied with. related to the legal basis of these restrictions can be assessed more broadly," he said.

Chief Justice: coronavirus complaints cannot be considered a priority

Ivo Pilving, Chairman of the Administrative Chamber of the Riigikogu, told ERR that it cannot be assumed that complaints related to the coronavirus should be processed by the court system as a priority, but those that need a faster assessment will receive preliminary legal assistance.

Pilving said that there is nothing to blame for the speed of the proceedings. "The complaints were made at the peak of the third wave, and it has not been more than half a year since then. It can be considered a reasonable time," Pilving said.

"If there is an urgent need for a court opinion, there is preliminary legal protection for it. If we remind the members of the Defense Forces and the police, as well as the employees of theaters, they have received these regulations much faster," he said.

"There are no other lawsuits that can be put on hold or postponed until these coronavirus cases are resolved. Be it the construction of wind farms, public procurement or tax disputes," Pilving said.

The ERR asked what happens if the complaint only calls for removing the coronavirus certificate and at the same time, the time comes for the government to lose the coronavirus passport anyway.

"This means the need for preliminary legal protection. It is not possible to go back in time," Pilving replied.

'It is appropriate to use a general arrangement in changing circumstances'

Speaking about the use of general organization in imposing restrictions, Pilving said that in the current circumstances it is a suitable tool.

"The Supreme Court expressed doubts in its November ruling as to whether permanent restrictions can be imposed for a very long time by the general organization. General organization is suitable for a situation where the situation changes when it is necessary to constantly react to new situations," Pilving commented.

Pilving specified that the November ruling by the Supreme Court concerned long-standing restrictions that had not been changed by anyone in the meantime.

"Now that there is a new situation and something is being put in place temporarily, a general arrangement is right for that. The logic could be that in a new situation, the government can react quickly to a general arrangement, but at some point," Pilving said.

Pilving did not want to suggest what could be a reasonable time to maintain the restrictions imposed by the general arrangement. "I would not venture to take an out-of-court position on whether it is three months, six months or nine months. The principle is that it is intended as a temporary measure, and it is especially good if this time limit is in the government's order itself," Pilving said.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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