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Government calls time out on emergency powers rollout after legal scholars raise questions

The government had planned to "partially" introduce two sections of the Emergency Powers Act.

Sanna Marin ja Tuula Haatainen.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP, left) and Employment Minister Tuula Haatainen (SDP) at the press conference on Monday afternoon. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

The government has rowed back on plans to apply two provisions of the Emergency Powers Act, announced earlier on Monday in conjunction with the declaration of a state of emergency.

"Sections 106 and 107 of the Emergency Powers Act will not be applied in any way until the conditions for their use are clarified and the matter is legally clarified once again," Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) wrote on Twitter on Monday evening.

At a press conference earlier this afternoon, Marin announced that Finland was in a state of emergency due to the worsening coronavirus epidemic. At the same time, the PM said that there was no immediate need to adopt the powers laid out by the Emergency Powers Act, which restrict the fundamental rights of citizens.

The government did however deem it necessary to "partially" apply section 106 ('communication by the state administrative authorities in emergencies') as well as section 107 ('powers in emergencies') of the act once the state of emergency entered into force.

The sections were to be introduced without the government securing approval from Parliament.

However, this is "illegal application", according to an article (external link in Finnish) published by law scholar Martin Scheinin on the Perustuslakiblogi ('Constitutional law blog') website.

"The decree [for parliamentary approval] has not been issued, so the application of Sections 106-107 of the Emergency Powers Act is illegal, and therefore the application of the Emergency Powers Act in its entirety is also illegal," Scheinin wrote.

Marin had said this afternoon that the sections could be partially introduced "as appropriate", but not in full. Therefore, no parliamentary approval would be needed.

National Coalition Party chair Petteri Orpo also demanded that the decision on the introduction of the emergency law be brought to Parliament.

"The government operates on the basis of a parliamentary mandate. All exceptional powers must be brought before Parliament. There is an urgent need to clarify this issue," Orpo wrote on Twitter.

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