BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – The Spanish Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that a strict home containment order the Spanish government had issued under the state of emergency during the first wave of COVID-19 in the year last was unconstitutional.
While maintaining most of the conditions of the state of emergency, the court declared that the provisions ordering the population to get off the streets, except for short trips for shopping, inevitable work trips and other essential activities violated the Spanish Constitution.
The court issued a brief statement describing the decision as a split decision. State broadcaster TVE said six magistrates were for and five against. The full decision is expected to be made in the coming days.
According to TVE, the majority of the court ruled that the movement restrictions violated the basic rights of citizens and that the state of emergency was a constitutionally insufficient mechanism to do so. The six magistrates declared that a state of emergency, which allows the government to suspend fundamental rights, would have been necessary.
Justice Minister Pilar Llop said her government “will uphold but not share the decision” on the inadequacy of the emergency declaration “which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives”.
“The home containment rule declared under the state of emergency, along with the exemplary behavior of citizens, allowed us to stop the virus,” Llop said, adding that it was similar to the orders given by d ‘ other European governments.
The Constitutional Court issued its ruling in response to a lawsuit brought by Spain’s far-right Vox party. Vox leader Santiago Abascal on Wednesday called on Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to resign.
“We cannot celebrate the decision because we have proof that the government was prepared to break the law and tarnish the constitution,” Abascal said.
The Spanish government declared a state of emergency on March 14, 2020, three days after the World Health Organization declared the spread of the coronavirus had become a pandemic. As Spanish hospitals fill up, Sánchez’s left-wing coalition government has won parliamentary support, including Vox lawmakers, for the state of emergency.
During the first six-week lockdown, the Spaniards couldn’t even get out to exercise, and Vox withdrew his support for the lockdown.
Containment has reduced the number of new daily cases. The Spanish government has gradually eased its pandemic restrictions after the worst of the emergency has passed. Since then, Spain has used a myriad of measures to control infections. The country has so far reported a pandemic death toll of 81,000.
Legal experts have said that until the full court ruling is rendered, it will not be clear whether the ruling will open the door to lawsuits against the government.
Fernando Simón, professor of constitutional law at the University of Navarre, said the Constitutional Court could limit the state’s legal exposure to the thousands of citizens who were fined for violating restrictions on movement during the state emergency.
“This capacity is reasonable because if the impact of the decision is taken to the extreme, it could create chaotic situations,” Simón told The Associated Press in an email.
He said the wording of the Spanish constitution regarding the state of emergency supported a strict or more open reading, adding that “this type of legal conflict would not even exist if the main political powers sought the common good”.
Follow all AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic