Spain’s lockdown was extreme, with people banned from leaving their homes except for unavoidable work commutes, short shopping trips for essential supplies, and doctor visits. During the first six-week confinement., residents were not even allowed to go for walks around their neighborhood, and violators were issued with fines. School was cancelled, and many children were stuck inside apartments with little opportunity for fresh air and even fewer options when it came to exercise.
Although it upheld most of the terms of the country’s state of alarm, the court asserted that the provisions that ordered the population off the streets with very few exceptions was a violation of the Spanish constitution. The ruling was a split decision, with six magistrates in favor and five ruling against it. A full decision will be released in the near future.
TVE is reporting that the court majority ruled that the limitations that were placed on people's movement violated basic human rights and that a state of exception was needed to suspend citizens’ basic rights in this case. In other words, while they did not question the need for the measures that were adopted to stop the spread of the virus, they believe the wrong legal mechanism was used.
Justice Minister Pilar Llop said the government does not share the decision but will uphold it. She maintains that the emergency declaration saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Spain’s constitution lays out three legal categories for emergencies: a state of emergency (which is referred to as a state of alarm within Spain), a state of exception and a state of siege. The state of alarm used was enough to limit people’s rights, some argued, while others believe that the intense restriction was really a suppression of fundamental rights, which means a state of exception was needed. A state of exception has to go through congress and then be declared by parliament, and it gives police broader powers.
Llop said the orders were similar to those given by other governments in Europe, stating: “The home confinement rule declared under the state of emergency, along with the exemplary behavior of citizens, allowed us to stop the virus.”
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit that was presented by the far-right Vox party. Leader Santiago Abascal has called for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to step down.
The state of alarm that led to the strict lockdown was declared on March 14, 2020, as Spain’s hospitals filled up and tens of thousands of people died. Although the restrictions have been gradually relaxed as the peak of the emergency subsides, different parts of the country are still under various levels of caution. It is only recently that residents have been allowed to spend time outdoors without masks, and that is only permissible when they are able to keep a reasonable distance from others; masks are still required indoors throughout the country.
Some areas of the country are expected to issue new restrictions, such as reduced operating hours for businesses, in the coming days in response to another rise in cases there, especially among young people. Valencia and Catalunya recently limited social gatherings to 10 people and restored late-night restrictions on all activity, while Asturias has banned indoor restaurant and bar operations. Eating and drinking in the street has also been banned.
Until the court's full decision can be released, it is not known whether the ruling will allow people who were issued fines for going out during the lockdown to reclaim the money paid. The court did say, however, that it would not be accepting lawsuits from businesses and individuals looking to sue the government over money lost during the lockdown.
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