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Chancellor of Justice responds to criticism of failed lockdown legislation

The proposal was shot down by Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee last week.

Tuomas Pöysti pimenevässä illassa Senaatintorilla. Tuomas on pukeutunut tummansiniseen pukuun. Vaaleansinisen kauluspaudan parina on punainanen kravatti ja rintataskusta pilkistää punaisilla ympyröillä koristeltu valkonen liina.
Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti responded to criticism of failed proposal on Tuesday afternoon. Image: Retu Liikanen / Yle

Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti has responded to criticism of how a proposed bill advanced so far through the legislative process before being rejected by the Parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee last week.

The draft bill proposed introducing restrictions on people's movements in areas of the country worst-affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Pöysti said that he did not feel he should have prevented the government from submitting the proposal to Parliament, despite being criticised for his supervision of the proposed bill.

He justified this on the grounds that the government must have the opportunity to make new proposals to Parliament which contain interpretations of the constitution.

Opinions on legislation not unanimous

Pöysti further pointed out that elements of the constitution are often in need of interpretation, and expert opinions on the proposed restrictions on movement were not unanimous.

"There were several statements for and against the proposal, which contributed to the possibilities for interpretation," he said.

His office also published a detailed article on the Chancellor of Justice's website (external link in Finnish) explaining the background to the process.

"The government did not act unlawfully, even if the constitutionality of the government's proposal is open to interpretation in the light of previous practice, as well as the Constitutional Law Committee deciding on a different position from the government in its assessment," Pöysti wrote.

However, according to critics, allowing the bill to make its way to parliament showed a lack of adequate supervision by the Chancellor of Justice, whose responsibility is to monitor the actions of the government.

Evaluation of old practices

Pöysti had participated in government negotiations regarding the proposed legislation.

"These long-term practices give the impression that the Chancellor of Justice is a member of the government team, which leads to concerns about whether there will be blindness to what is taking place there," Pöysti said at Tuesday afternoon's press conference.

The preparation of the restrictions on movement was made particularly difficult by the perceived urgency, with Pöysti further pointing out that the proposed bill was prepared remarkably fast, even taking the exceptional circumstances into consideration.

Furthermore, the drafting process did not include a consultation round, as is usually the case, which Pöysti said can have a negative impact on the quality of a proposal.

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