'Robust legal basis': Court rules that Belgium's Pandemic Act is constitutional

'Robust legal basis': Court rules that Belgium's Pandemic Act is constitutional
Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden. Credit: Belga/Eric Lalmand

For the many months that the Covid-19 pandemic dominated personal and public affairs, the Belgian State introduced an array of firm restrictions under the auspices of the Pandemic Law. These suspended civil rights in the name of public health, but the legality of this hastily-erected framework was widely questioned.

Yet despite successive efforts in the Constitutional Court to annul the Pandemic Act (in part or in full), the Court has ruled this week that the Pandemic Act was indeed "a robust legal basis" for taking action in the event of another epidemic emergency.

The law was published in the Belgian Official Journal on 20 August 2021 at a time when the outlook of the pandemic was favourable and the authorities hoped it would not have to be applied.

"However, the reality proved otherwise," a press release by Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden reads. The epidemic emergency did have to be declared and was later ratified by Parliament by law. It allowed the Federal Government to act quickly and in a targeted manner, taking measures to limit the impact of the pandemic on public health.

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Yet the law's opponents made numerous attempts to strike it down as unconstitutional – an argument made time and again by the opposition in the Federal Parliament. This resulted in legal queries that sought to repeal the law and lift many of the tight restrictions that limited civil and business activity.

Belgium's Constitutional Court has now – almost a year since all pandemic-related restrictions were dropped – ruled that the law was within the bounds of the nation's constitution, thereby absolving the State of legal wrongdoing.

"With the Pandemic Act, we have solidly prepared for the future and are ready should new pandemics occur," said Verlinden. "Still, we hope never to have to apply the Pandemic Act again."

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