The court of appeal in Brussels has granted an extension to the deadline for the government to introduce a new pandemic law, allowing it to escape penalties imposed by a lower court one month ago.
The case was brought by the two human rights leagues in Belgium, French-speaking and Flemish, contesting the legality of the measures introduced by the government to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic in Belgium.
The organisations argued that the use of ministerial decrees to introduce tough measures restricting liberties and carrying fines was not constitutional. The tribunal of first instance agreed, and ordered the government to pass its pandemic law by 1 May or face a penalty of €5,000 a day.
The government immediately announced it would appeal the ruling, and the parties appeared before the appeal court on 12 April.
This week the appeal court announced it would extend the deadline, allowing all parties until 18 May to prepare their arguments while taking account of a decision expected any day from the Council of State.
That means, in effect, that the penalty payments imposed by the tribunal of first instance will not begin applying tomorrow as expected. The government’s pandemic bill has made progress through the Council of State and parliament, and is thought to be close to passing into law.
In the meantime, the human rights organisations have announced they will not press for the fines to be applied, since the case seems to be broadly on the right tracks.
In the meantime, the two leagues issued a joint statement on the measures currently in force.
“The Leagues stress that health measures still exist. They must continue to be respected to protect us all, in order to limit the spread of the virus. The question of the legality of criminal proceedings, that is to say of fines and other sanctions for non-compliance with sanitary measures, remains however, at least until the decision of the court of appeal,” the statement reads.
“In other words, this means that the League for Human Rights believes that there is still debate around the validity of the sanctions but cannot guarantee that they will be declared illegal by all jurisdictions.”
The delay offered by the court of appeal, the leagues say, should now be used to ensure that the pandemic law has been properly scrutinised, to ensure it respects the fundamental rights of the people.