Approach with Caution: Sunset Clauses as Safeguards of Democracy?

Citation: Molloy, S. (2021). ‘Approach with Caution’. European Journal of Law Reform 2021(2), 147-166

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Abstract: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders across the globe scrambled to adopt emergency legislation. Amongst other things, these measures gave significant powers to governments in order to curb the spreading of a virus, which has shown itself to be both indiscriminate and deadly. Nevertheless, exceptional measures, however necessary in the short term, can have adverse consequences both on the enjoyment of human rights specifically and democracy more generally. Not only are liberties severely restricted and normal processes of democratic deliberation and accountability constrained but the duration of exceptional powers is also often unclear. One potentially ameliorating measure is the use of sunset clauses: dispositions that determine the expiry of a law or regulation within a predetermined period unless a review determines that there are reasons for extension. The article argues that without effective review processes, far from safeguarding rights and limiting state power, sunset clauses can be utilized to facilitate the transferring of emergency powers whilst failing to guarantee the very problems of normalized emergency they are included to prevent. Thus, sunset clauses and the review processes that attach to them should be approached with caution.

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