Justice Department forms committee to strike a balance between rights and health in situations such as the present

Catalonia’s Generalitat Government is the first institution to coordinate a team of professionals in this field to set benchmarks

Catalonia’s Department of Justice has commissioned the creation of a group of experts to study the conciliation of fundamental rights with situations of crisis. The department considers it necessary to prevent health-protection security measures from colliding with the people’s political and civil liberties as a result of the coronavirus emergency. For this reason, Justice has engaged a committee of independent professionals to draft some basic principles. The Generalitat will be the first institution to promote a study of this nature, which is to set several standards.

The experts will work to find answers to the following question: What are the limits of safety and health protection measures in a democratic society? Their task is thus to set boundaries for the administration in order to prevent measures of health protection from unduly affecting the rights and freedoms of citizens. The team of experts will ponder measures such as immunity passports, mobile phone tracking, or restricting free movement, as well as the impact on the right to demonstrate or the right to information, among others.
This was laid out by the Minister of Justice Ester Capella when interpellated in parliamentary questions alongside the Member of the Catalan Parlliament (MCP) and Deputy Secretary General of Esquerra Marta Vilalta. Ms Capella warned that the coronavirus pandemic cannot be a pretext to axe fundamental rights. “Health protection must go hand in hand with more profound, democratic principles,” the minister said.

In her reply during the session, the head of the Justice department questioned why measures were taken [by the Spanish government] to restrict the right to demonstration for example. She also defended protection of people’s lives, but “preserving fundamental rights as well.” “We need to ready ourselves in order to preserve both, making them compatible; it is the familiar contention between security and freedom, and in emergency situations this reaches a peak and there is the risk of it leading to reversion of rights and freedoms that we cannot accept, and may well open doors that we will not know how to close,” she warned.
Which is why the department has engaged the experts, a plural and balanced group made up of professionals of recognized prestige in the fields of law and philosophy, with prominent backgrounds in the defence of civil and political rights. The committee will act independently and will have the technical and organizational support of the Department of Justice, as well as the support of the Office of Civil and Political Rights and the Office of the Vice President and Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Indeed, Ms Vilalta also expressed her belief in this balance, and celebrated reaching the phase of “the new reality” in Catalonia from this Friday on. Far from the “fear and imposition” by which the Spanish administration has managed the State of Alarm, Esquerra’s spokesperson now calls for the implementation of this new phase to include co-responsibility with the people, while also shielding their rights. “We don’t like to talk of the New Normal. What normal should we go back to? That which allows inequality of class or gender? That which tolerates racist attitudes? The normal of a corrupt monarchy? A repressive normal? Or worse still, a new phase where in the name of security and fear of death, the door opens to restriction of political and civil rights?” she enquired.

The conclusions of the expert group, which will not receive any remuneration, will be published in the autumn. The intention is not only to address the effects of Covid-19, but also to project future scenarios, to pre-empt possible outbreaks, new pandemics and emergencies.