Emergency Powers in Constitutions: Primer
This Primer discusses the constitutional regulation of emergency powers. Any country can experience public emergencies arising from war, invasion, armed uprisings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, epidemics, or other types of crisis or catastrophe. Democratic states, however, may face particular challenges in dealing with emergencies because the legally guaranteed rights and institutional checks and balances associated with a democratic constitutional order can be obstacles to swift decision-making and might hinder effective action.
Most of the world’s democratic constitutions therefore include emergency provisions that allow the authorities, in times of urgent necessity, to take actions necessary to safeguard national security, maintain law and order, protect citizens’ lives and property, keep essential public services working, concentrate relief resources and direct them to the areas of greatest need, and in general to restore normality. These emergency provisions may permit the government to limit or suspend certain (although usually not all) constitutional rights, to set aside some institutional checks and balances so as to concentrate decision-making power in the central executive, and even to delay elections.
International IDEA’s Constitution-Building Primers are designed to assist in-country constitution-building or constitutional-reform processes by helping citizens, political parties, civil society organizations, public officials and members of constituent assemblies make wise constitutional choices.
They also provide guidance for staff of intergovernmental organizations and other external actors working to provide well-informed, context- relevant support to local decision makers. Each Primer is written as an introduction for non-specialist readers, and as a convenient aide-memoire for those with prior knowledge of, or experience with, constitution-building.
Arranged thematically around the practical choices faced by constitution- builders, the Primers aim to explain complex constitutional issues in a quick and easy way.