Pilving: Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, but not black and white

Supreme Court Justice Ivo Pilving.
Supreme Court Justice Ivo Pilving. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia ruled that the standards of the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (NETS) are constitutional, however they did not have the explicit jurisdiction to assess orders issued by the Estonian government, Supreme Court Justice Ivo Pilving said on Monday.

"When it comes to constitutional matters, the Supreme Court cannot assess government orders, which is why we only handled the law," Pilving said at a press conference on Monday afternoon. "Thus today's Supreme Court ruling is a more general one. We reviewed whether the law is sufficiently detailed and clear, and whether a government order is the instrument with which to impose restrictions."

According to the Supreme Court justice, the question of whether the Estonian government acted lawfully will remain up to the administrative court to decide. "If the government appeals the administrative court ruling, then following the circuit court it will come back around to the Supreme Court," he said.

"Our ruling was unanimous, but not black and white," Pilving acknowledged. "We didn't agree with several government decisions, such as [the idea] that a [COVID-19 vaccination passport] requirement is an insignificant infringement of freedoms, as several fundamental rights were severely infringed upon. But such restrictions are justified for the control of major diseases if they are fit for purpose."

The Supreme Court chamber did not consider the legislation in question to be imprecise, he explained. "It was general, as the COVID passport requirement, for example, is not specified in the law, but it is covered by the overall framework," he noted.

According to the justice, Monday's Supreme Court ruling isn't unlimited permission for the government to continue with the same law forever — particularly with regard to new waves of COVID.

"The more freedoms are infringed upon, the stricter the legal requirements on the government should become," he stressed. "Vague objectives in NETS may need clarification if COVID shouldn't happen to disappear from this planet for good. Which it won't, but we don't know as how severe of an illness it will continue."

There's room for improvement of legislation in several areas, he continued.

"There's ambiguity in the definitions of diseases," Pilving cited as an example. "As Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise referred to, it isn't currently unambiguous whether the common cold is a dangerous novel communicable disease or not."

He added, however, that an indeterminate definition didn't end up proving fateful, as COVID met the definitions as laid out in NETS.

"That definition isn't downright scattered, but it could stand to be improved, and more carefully considered where to expand this law or not," he said.

On June 1, Tallinn Administrative Court ruled that COVID passport requirement imposed by the Estonian government was invalid. The administrative court thereafter forwarded the case to the Supreme Court in order for the country's top court to issue a position on a matter of importance to society.

In its Monday ruling, the Supreme Court found that the NETS standards that allowed for the government to impose a requirement for a so-called COVID passport during the COVID pandemic are not unconstitutional. The country's top court did note, however, that lawmakers should specify the law in question.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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