As if taking decisions to fight the pandemic wasn’t hard enough, now the Catalan authorities also have to contend with the courts of law. The decision by a Lleida judge to reverse the Catalan government’s decision to impose tighter mobility restrictions on Lleida city and a further seven municipalities in the Baix Segre county makes no sense and further baffles the general public, whose anxiety has spiked following the coronavirus’ spread after the lockdown measures have been eased into the “new normal”. Should a local judge on call one evening be allowed to freeze measures that aim to protect public health?
Indeed there is a legal debate as to whether certain liberties, such as the freedom to travel around, may continue to be restricted now that the state of emergency has been lifted (and even before that). Therefore, the Spanish government must take whatever action is needed to prevent what has occurred in Lleida from happening again. Otherwise we may find ourselves in a shambolic situation where some judges sanction the government’s lockdown while others refuse to.
To make matters worse, on March 13 the same judge endorsed a joint statement with her colleagues from the Lleida judicial district announcing that all courts of law would be putting their activity on hold following the government-imposed lockdown on the Òdena region. The judges claimed that the decision had been taken by the Catalan government “within its power” and it was necessary in order to avoid “the possible spread of the virus”. Let us not forget that Spain was not under a state of emergency at the time. What has changed since then?
From a legal standpoint, public health authorities should be given the necessary instruments so that they may take drastic measures with little notice in order to interrupt the chain of transmission. It should be emphasised that this is an exceptional situation and —until a vaccine is found— we will need to live in a state of alert that allows the authorities to lock down buildings, towns or even whole counties, depending on the size of the outbreak, following economic and epidemiological criteria.
After yesterday’s regrettable spectacle in Lleida, we must call on the public to observe the restrictions imposed locally. They are not a whim, but a necessity considering the viral resurgence. Regardless of whether fines should be given or not, the fact remains that we are facing a situation where everyone needs to work together. The Catalan authorities must fine-tune their legal instruments to prevent interference from local courts and they must come to an agreement with their Spanish counterpart about the legal means required.
At the moment ensuring that people are safe must remain the priority.