National Police Board interpreted assembly restrictions too broadly
According to Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen, the guiding letter issued by the National Police Board in spring 2020 presented interpretations concerning the supervision of assembly restrictions that cannot be considered legally acceptable. According to the letter, the police could have intervened also in events other than public meetings or public events as defined in the Assembly Act.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman stressed that, although many means could be effective in limiting the Covid19-epidemic, the authorities can only exercise powers based on law. The Government's policies or recommendations have not afforded the police any additional powers.
Section 58 of the Communicable Diseases Act cannot be interpreted, contrary to its clear wording, in such a way as to cover all events where people gather. The assembly restrictions imposed by the Regional State Administrative Agencies can only apply to public meetings and public events as defined in the Assembly Act. With regard to these, the powers exercised by the police are laid down in the Assembly Act.
In addition, the Police Act otherwise allows the police to intervene in situations that pose a concrete threat to public order and security - in this case, the number of people present is not as a rule decisive. However, the provisions on police powers laid down in the Police Act cannot justifiably be interpreted in such a way that they would allow the police to take measures affecting people`s fundamental rights to prevent the spread of Covid19-virus to which specific special legislation (Communicable Diseases Act) does not provide the right.
The Ombudsman noted that, in particular in the spring, the situation was new to all authorities and the prevention of serious threats required swift measures. The National Police Board has since amended its guidance and it is currently largely in line with Parliamentary Ombudsman’s views. For these reasons, the Ombudsman felt that bringing his views to the attention of the National Police Board was a sufficient measure.
Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen's decision 2678/2020 has been published (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.
For more information on the matter, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 9 432 3334.