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Full Report (March 2020) (PDF, 990KB)
*Updates have been made to individual webpages that are not reflected in the PDF.

Jurisdictions Examined: Algeria | Argentina | Australia | Azerbaijan | Belgium | Brazil | Canada | China | Cote d’Ivoire | Egypt | Estonia | France | Germany | Guatemala | India | Israel | Italy | Jamaica | Jordan | Kenya | Kuwait | Malta | Mexico | New Zealand | Nicaragua | Norway | Philippines | Portugal | Russia | South Africa | Spain | Sweden | Switzerland | Taiwan | Turkey | United Kingdom | United States

Comparative Summary

I. Introduction

This report by the foreign law research staff of the Global Legal Research Directorate surveys the law of 36 foreign jurisdictions and the United States on the functioning of legislatures under emergency measures, arrangements in legislatures for a designated sub-group to constitute a kind of “emergency parliament” with devolved powers from the whole legislature, and arrangements made by national legislative bodies to ensure their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the vast majority of countries surveyed, legislatures have adopted preventative measures in response to the public emergency posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, no country surveyed has explicitly invoked the powers of an “emergency parliament” with devolved power from the whole legislature. However, several countries surveyed give various other emergency powers to the legislature in times of emergencies. 

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II. Functioning of National Legislatures in Times of Emergency

Of the countries surveyed, Germany, Guatemala, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey have special rules for legislatures in times of “emergency” (e.g., public emergencies, natural disasters, war, threats to democracy, contagious diseases, or armed external attacks). However, with the partial exception of Germany, the existing emergency legislation identified in these countries does not designate a subgroup of legislators with devolved powers to respond to these crises. Rather the special “emergency” rules aim to facilitate legislative operations during times of crisis through other means, such as meeting outside the capitol (Norway), extending legislative time limits (Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Turkey), or simplifying/expediting legislative procedures (Germany, Guatemala, Israel, Malta, Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland).

Moreover, while apart from Germany the identified legislation of the countries surveyed does not designate a subgroup of legislators with devolved powers to respond to emergencies, the various quorum requirements still apply in Australia, Axerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, China, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Germany, India, Kenya, Malta, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Beyond quorum requirements, several legislative bodies employ or envision employing “pairing” or “proxy” arrangements to minimize the number of physical votes required in times of emergency, while maintaining equal representation, as further described below.

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III. Operational Arrangements by Legislatures during the COVID-19 Pandemic where Movement and Travel are Restricted

Operational arrangements by legislatures while restricting the movement and travel of members and staff include utilizing videoconferencing and other electronic means to maintain legislative activities, formulating special voting procedures to reduce necessary travel and attendance, and providing new accountability measures in cases where legislative activity has been interrupted. Measures also include temporary suspension of scheduled events and travel.

Many countries, including Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, and Taiwan, have utilized videoconferencing and/or other electronic means to maintain some legislative activities. For example, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies has adopted a resolution to use a remote deliberation system to allow the plenary Chamber to continue functioning during the pandemic by allowing remote discussion and voting on matters under the plenary’s consideration. In Mexico, while the House of Representatives will stop holding regular sessions until further notice, House members will be permitted to file bills and conduct work performed in committees remotely. In New Zealand, procedures have been adopted in the House allowing adjustment of the limit on proxy votes that may be cast, allowing oral questions to be lodged electronically, and allowing select committees to conduct meetings and other forms of decision making by electronic means. In the Philippines, on March 23, 2020, the House of Representatives held a special session to consider a measure declaring a national emergency and granting the Philippines president pertinent powers; for the first time in the House’s history, this session took place in a “virtual” manner, with about 20 members attending personally while 279 other members joined online through teleconference means. In Spain, the legislative work of the Congress of Deputies is being carried out electronically as much as possible during the pandemic, including through the use of an electronic vote registry.

Australia, France, Malta, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have employed or are exploring options to maintain legislative operations with fewer members present. For example, Australia’s lower house is planning an upcoming session with a significantly reduced number of members, with sufficient numbers to deal with procedural motions needed to quickly enact stimulus legislation in response to the pandemic; pairing arrangements will allow MPs from both major parties to miss votes without affecting the outcome. Sweden’s Parliament adopted measures to have 55 members instead of the full 349 members, with the number of votes represented by each party reflecting their proportion in Parliament. In the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, only front bench MPs and a limited number of others are being permitted to enter into the Commons, and they are required to follow social distancing requirements and stay two meters apart; the procedure for divisions (votes) has been varied to stagger the entry of MPs into the lobbies, enabling MPs to maintain an appropriate social distance.

In addition, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, Israel, Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, and Spain have partially and/or temporarily suspended legislative activities. Finally, Brazil, Estonia, Malta, and Taiwan have temporarily suspended domestic and or/international travel of legislators in response to the pandemic.

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Prepared by Elizabeth Boomer
Foreign Law Analyst
March 2020

Last Updated: 12/30/2020