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I. Functioning of the National Legislature

According to the Portuguese Constitution, sovereign bodies may not, jointly or separately, suspend the exercise of rights, freedoms, and guarantees, except in the case of a state of siege or a state of emergency, declared in the manner provided for in the Constitution.[1] A state of siege or state of emergency may only be declared, in all or part of the national territory, in cases of effective or imminent aggression by foreign forces, serious threat or disturbance to the democratic constitutional order, or public calamity.[2] A declaration of a state of siege or state of emergency gives the authorities the competence to take the necessary and appropriate measures for the prompt restoration of constitutional normality.[3]

It is incumbent upon the President of the Republic to declare a state of siege or state of emergency, subject to the provisions of articles 19 and 138 of the Constitution.[4] However, a state of siege or state of emergency requires prior consultation of the government and authorization by the Assembly of the Republic or, if the Assembly is not sitting and it is not possible to arrange for it to sit immediately, by the Assembly’s Standing Committee.[5] A declaration of a state of siege or state of emergency authorized by the Standing Committee must be confirmed by the plenary as soon as it is possible to arrange for it to sit.[6]

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II. Emergency Parliament

Portuguese legislation does not provide any arrangements in the national parliament for a designated subgroup of members to constitute a kind of “emergency parliament” with devolved powers from the whole parliament to address crisis situations.

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III. Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 3, 2020, the Assembly of the Republic approved a contingency plan for the purpose of anticipating and managing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in Parliament with regard to both members and visitors.[7] The main objective of the plan is to prepare the Assembly for better management of the risk of infection and to face eventual cases of illness, minimizing transmission and its impact on the activities of Parliament and the community while also ensuring the functioning of its organs and services and the full exercise of the powers of the sovereign body.[8]

According to the plan, the management of the eventual pandemic situation justified the creation of the COVID-19 Management Office (Gabinete de Gestão do COVID-19, GGC19) in the Assembly of the Republic, composed of the Secretary-General, a doctor from the Medical and Nursing Office of the Assembly of the Republic, the Administrative and Finance Director, and the Director of the Communications Office.[9] The Contingency Plan is to be activated by a determination of the Secretary-General of the Assembly of the Republic, following an opinion from GGC19, with the scope of the measures being weighed at all times against the available data.[10]

The Plan must be activated when a member, parliamentary employee, or employee of a parliamentary group is suspected of being infected with COVID-19. Likewise, it must be activated when the suspected infection of a worker exercising regular functions in the Assembly of the Republic is confirmed, which includes workers of external companies and entities. Finally, it must be activated if there are guidelines from the Directorate-General for Health requiring activation, regardless of confirmation of a suspected case in the Assembly.[11]

The mobilization of the response may include restrictions on in-person meetings that are within the scope of the Assembly’s services to the essential minimum, among other measures, and remote meetings are preferred through technological means of information and communication.[12]

The President of the Assembly of the Republic may, on his own initiative or upon a proposal by the GGC19 and after hearing the Conference of Leaders, determine the scope of additional measures relating to the functioning of the plenary, Parliamentary Commissions, travel, official missions of Deputies, visits to the Assembly’s external entities and delegations, or assistance to plenary meetings.[13]

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Prepared by Eduardo Soares
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2020

[1] Constituição da República Portuguesa (VII Revisão Constitucional [2005]), art. 19(1),

[2] Id. art. 19(2).

[3] Id. art. 19(8).

[4] Id. art. 134(d).

[5] Id. art. 138(1).

[6] Id. art. 138(2).

[7] Press Release, Assembleia da República, COVID-19 – Plano de Contingência da Assembleia da República (Mar. 3, 2020),

[8] Id.

[9] Plano de Contingência da Assembleia da República, Doença por COVID-19, at 3,

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 6.

[12] Id. at 7.

[13] Id.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020