The parliament of Georgia is considering the draft amendments to the Law of Georgia on Public Health in an accelerated manner. The noted draft law is related to the threats caused by the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and after its adoption, relevant agencies will be able to take organizational, legal and other measures aimed to handle the challenges.
The draft law provides two major novelties that pose risks of disproportionately restricting human rights after the state of emergency expires:
1. The definition of “quarantine measures” expands according to the draft law.
According to the current legislation, quarantine measures mean a set of measures applied to a person who is not diseased but has been exposed to a communicable disease case during the period of communicability.
As stated by the draft law, this definition also includes measures that regulate the activities of public institutions, free movement of persons, private property, labor, professional or economic activities, gatherings of individuals for the purposes of social events, in a different manner than the current legislation. Among other things, it includes imposing relevant and necessary restrictions to protect public health.
2. The draft law envisages concentration of excessive power within the executive branch.
According to the draft law, the rule of isolation and/or quarantine, as well as administration of institutions within the executive branch and legal entities under public law, also, the rule of delivering public services can be temporarily regulated differently by the government or the Ministry designated by the government. The quarantine measures can also be defined by this rule, that in this case will be a component part of it.
As a result of such amendment, sanctions determined by the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia and the Criminal Code of Georgia for breaching the rules of isolation and/or quarantine will also apply to the quarantine measures taken by the government or the Ministry designated by the government within the scope of their wide authority.
Although it may be justifiable to take certain concrete and targeted measures in order to protect public health after the end of state of emergency, these kinds of efforts should be clearly prescribed by the law. The presented draft law grants the executive branch excessive power that may have a long-term and disproportionate impact on human rights.
According to the international human rights standards, the state has the power to restrict certain rights, however, such restrictions must be provided by the law, serve a legitimate aim, for instance, protection of public health, and meet a high standard of necessity. These restrictions should be proportional and necessary in a democratic society. On one hand, the presented draft law is granting the government the right to restrict human rights instead of granting this power to the legislative authority. On the other hand, it does not ensure protection of the principle of proportionality and does not satisfy the criteria of foreseeability.
The Bureau of the Parliament considered the draft law on May 19, 2020 whereas the state of emergency expires on May 22. For this reason, the initiator of the draft law requests its consideration in an accelerated manner. Considering the draft law in such a speedy manner makes it hard to conduct thorough discussion and obstructs the proper engagement of the interested parties in the decision-making process.
It should be noted that IDFI was calling out to the government of Georgia to provide an unambiguous explanation on legal grounds of possible restrictions, because it was clear that sooner or later this issue would arise. Informing the public in a timely manner on planned amendments would have given stakeholders enough time to express their opinions relating to the possible restrictions and would have ensured their proper engagement in this process.
Therefore, we are calling the parliament of Georgia not to adopt the draft law in an accelerated manner and give the possibility to each and every interested party to submit their arguments and opinions regarding the draft law.
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