France’s Conseil constitutionnel has ruled that most aspects of the government’s vaccine pass bill conform with the Constitution, although it opposed any sort of pass requirement for entry to political meetings.
It means that the vaccine pass, which will bar entry to most of the public spaces currently subject to the health pass to people who are not fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid in the past six months, will come into force on Monday, January 24.
It will apply to everyone - residents and visitors - aged 16 and over.
The pass is not a new document but is essentially your latest vaccination certificate or a test showing you have recovered from Covid. Like the current health pass you can present this on paper or via applications such as France’s Covid app, TousAntiCovid. If you are fully vaccinated nothing changes.
The Conseil constitutionnel is France’s highest constitutional authority, and exists to make sure that the principles and rules outlined in the Constitution are upheld. It published its ruling on the vaccine pass bill this afternoon (January 21).
No pass for political meetings
The authority stated that neither vaccine or health passes should be used to control entry into political meetings because this would contravene the right to “free communication of thoughts and opinions.”
“The liberty of expression and communication is made even more precious because its existence is a condition of democracy and one of the guarantees of a respect for other rights and freedoms,” it added.
The organisers of political meetings can, however, take “all useful health-related precautions, such as limiting the number of participants, distributing masks or airing out rooms,” the Conseil said.
Venue staff allowed to carry out identity checks
The ruling agreed that venue staff would be allowed to ask members of the public for proof of identity if they doubted that their vaccine pass was legitimate.
Opponents to the pass had argued that this went against legislation which prevents private individuals from assuming the same powers as the police.
However, the Conseil stated that it was acceptable seeing as the only consequence of failing to produce the required documentation would be being refused entry to the venue.
It also said that the authority to check identity documents would help the vaccine pass system to work more effectively.
Décision n° 2022-835 DC du 21 janvier 2022 [Loi renforçant les outils de gestion de la crise sanitaire et modifiant le code de la santé publique] Non conformité partielle - réservehttps://t.co/MKXwCbGL9C pic.twitter.com/xeIGr7agwq— Conseil constit (@Conseil_constit) January 21, 2022
Balancing freedom of movement with need to protect public health
Some 60 MPs from far-left opposition party La France insoumise had referred the vaccine pass bill to the Conseil after it was given final approval by the Assemblée nationale on Sunday (January 16). They argued that it went against the constitutional right to come and go as one pleases.
The Conseil was in agreement with this claim, adding that it also limited people’s ability to meet with each other in order to collectively discuss opinions and ideas.
However, it ruled that this was in the interests of “protecting the health” of the public, another obligation of the Constitution.
“It is up to the legislator to ensure a balance between this constitutional objective and a respect for the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution,” it stated, adding that it was not up to the Conseil to decide whether the health-related aims of the government could be achieved in other ways.
The constitutional body judged that the limits on the freedom to come and go which will be imposed by the vaccine pass were acceptable in that they would only remain in place until they were “no longer necessary.”
It added that, “with regards to the places and activities in which the pass [will be] required, it cannot be seen as imposing compulsory vaccination.”
Drawing from these considerations, the Conseil decided that the vaccine pass bill represented a “balanced conciliation of the constitutional demands outlined.”
Vaccine passes will be required from the age of 16, with 12 to 15-year-olds being allowed to enter affected public spaces using their health pass – essentially meaning using proof of a negative Covid test from the previous 24 hours. Health passes will also remain valid for entry into medical and care settings.
If unvaccinated people wish to travel by long-distance transport such as TGV trains or domestic flights, they must be able to demonstrate “pressing grounds in relation to their family or their health” as well as a negative Covid test. The test requirement may be waived in an emergency.
People who receive their first vaccine dose by February 15 can get a vaccine pass immediately, if they also get a negative Covid test (which will remain valid for 24 hours), and commit to getting a second dose within one month
The government may decide to relax the new rules within the next few weeks or months if the Covid situation improves.
In order to be considered fully vaccinated, all adults must now have had a booster vaccine dose no later than seven months after their second dose. This timeframe will be shortened to four months from February 15.