False claims on restrictions on movement in Finland

Ilta-Sanomat newspaper published an article on 4 April 2021 claiming that the restrictions on movement proposed by the Government to the Finnish Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs, which came to a halt on 31 March 2021 for legal reasons, are a matter of internal power play by the Social Democrats. https://m.facebook.com/iltasanomat/posts/10158094798971463

The claim is false.

The issue had to do with problems of drafting legislation rather than party politics, which can be easily verified via e-mail and telephone by contacting the constitutional experts who have consulted the Constitutional Committee.

According to the primary sources, the Government’s proposed bill was so problematic that no revised proposal was made after the knockout by the Constitutional Committee. In addition, the bill on requiring a negative corona test result at the borders was drafted by the Ministry of Transport and Communications instead of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. https://www.eduskunta.fi/FI/vaski/KasittelytiedotValtiopaivaasia/Sivut/HE_137+2020.aspx

The Ministry and the regional government agencies considered that they could not order inspections under the already existing Infectious Diseases Act, so a new bill was prepared on the matter. It was necessary for the Constitutional Committee to say that the matter has already been provided for by law. The alignment of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs showed the strength of fundamental rights but also the weaknesses of the drafting of the law, and according to constitutional experts, the Government alone cannot be blamed.

This fact is also confirmed by Mr Lasse Lehtonen, Professor of Health Law and Director of Diagnostics of Helsinki region hospital district (HUS). https://perustuslakiblogi.wordpress.com/2021/04/04/lasse-lehtonen-korona-ja-lainvalmistelun-kukkaset/ According to Mr Lehtonen, the proposal on movement restrictions was too “casuistic”, i.e. based on specific, individual cases. Casuist legislation is an attempt to regulate all the details and possible situations, and it is practically impossible.

Contrary to what the newspaper writes, the control does not flow directly from top to bottom. Even if the Government leads the country, it cannot be the one that prescribes action. The Government’s website states that the border authorities decide on the restrictions in accordance with the decisions of the Government. https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/information-on-coronavirus/current-restrictions

The way decision-making in Finnish pandemic management works is that the Government proposes measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19. The bills have been drafted on the advice of both experts in virology and lawyers.

The Committee on Constitutional Affairs examines the relationship between the proposed measures and fundamental rights, i.e. the Committee on Constitutional Affairs always has the last word. The Committee on Constitutional Affairs does not politicize but interprets the Constitution regardless of the governing parties. Nor does it make law a question of prestige. https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/ajantasa/1999/19990731

Legal experts of the Parliament note that in Finland, the Government does not appoint competent authorities, but they act independently in accordance with laws enacted by Parliament. They interpret the laws independently, so they are not bound by the Ministry’s interpretation, for example.

Sources: The Information Service of the Library of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Lasse Lehtonen, Professor of Health Law, Finlex Data Bank

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