Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

Have any emergency powers been enacted in response to the covid-19 pandemic in your country? How long do they last, what are the provisions for extension/prolongation, what are the provisions for review?

A set of laws were adopted in March 2020 when the Parliament (French Parliament = National Assembly + Senate i.e. high and low chambers)  officially passed a law establishing a state of health emergency for two months (to be prolonged based on a law to set the definitive term of the state of emergency with a maximum date of termination on 1st April 2021).

  • Ruling powers (by orders i.e. “arrêtés” in French) to the Prime Minister, the ministry of Health and territorial authorities (esp. to allow for restriction on movement) including:
    • The Prime Minister can rule by decree on matters related to the restriction of fundamental freedoms i.e. free movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of entrepreneurship, only of this is required to safeguard public health. Such decree power is limited to a set of 9 circumstances including restriction or prohibition of movement applicable to people or vehicles (location & hours when such restriction apply to be specified in the decree). Such restrictions shall be in line with the
  • Sanctions
    • 1st breach of the rules : 135 EUR fine
    • 2nd breach of the rules within a span of two weeks since the 1st breach : 1.500 EUR
    • If the person is sanctioned for the 3rd time within 30 days : 6 months’ imprisonment and 3,750 EUR fine, a supplementary “community service” sanction » and the suspension of the driving licence for at least 3 years

Cirular, dated 13 March 2020: Adjustment of judiciary and administrative deadlines during the health emergency timeframe[1], including:

  • Extension of the validity of temporary residence permits and of asylum request certificates for a maximum of 180 days (when such documents are due to expire between 16 March and 15 May 2020)
  • Adaptation of rules as to access to one’s lawyer via video-conference, and the extension of the pre-detention periods (“détention provisoire”) without judicial oversight as well many other aspects impacting the principles of a fair trial (only if the situation does not allow for the detainee to leave the detention site i.e. if the detainees is Covid19 positive, or if s/he refuses the video-conference setting)[2]

Suspension of all court hearings except for emergency cases (“référés”) as of 16 March 2020[3]

Order from 7 April 2020 authorising the use of detention and the carrying of weapons in the Mayotte department by mobile security agents deployed by the Ministry of Education and Youth[4]

Most measures related to the March decisions summed-up in this document by the National Bars Association

Have any restrictions on public gatherings been imposed? How are they enforced?

Decree on 23 March 2020[5]: all gatherings prohibited until 15 April when it involves more than 100 people.

To be updated after E.Macron’s speech on 13 April 2020 extending the lockdown until 11 May 2020.

Have restrictions on leaving home been imposed? How are they enforced?

Lockdown as of 17 March 2020 12p.m. Anyone leaving home should provide a certificate accounting for the reasons to leave home ( --> available in English version)

The document to be provided differs depending on whether it has do with private or professional reasons.

People living in overseas territory are also treated differently: internal border checks are reinstated for anyone travelling from these territories.

Curfews in about 170 cities/towns (as of 1 April 2020) sometimes only applicable to under-aged persons[6]. Some of the decisions made by mayors have been contested by deparment and prefecture authorities who have declared some of them invalid (effectiveness of the curfew not demonstrated).[7]

This is enforced mostly based on people’s discipline.

Police and gendarmerie officers have been deployed to ensure that these measures are respected: non-systematic checks, in a very varying manner throughout the country. Very heterogeneous.

Have any other new powers been granted to law enforcement authorities? (e.g. in the UK, to detain potentially infectious persons)

Not that Im aware of (you should get in touch with the National Bar’s Association though)

Are the authorities making new use of telecommunications or other data?

Not yet. To be decided soon.

Personal data: tracking/geolocation à announcement by E.Macron on 13th April that measures may be adopted within 2 weeks that clarify France’s position on the use/processing of geolocation to identify Covid19-infected subjects.

The French data protection authority (CNIL) as expressed its consultative opinion[8]

  • a dozen of authorisations have been granted to public health structures in the context of scientific health research to be conducted in the context of the pandemics (e.g. Paris hospitals AP/HP, scientific research centres such as Inserm, The Pasteur Institute, University Hospitals in several cities in France.
  • The application legislation on data protection does not oppose the use of geolocation for the purpose of individual or collective tracking for the purpose of public health interest. This is of course provided that the applicable safeguards are respected.
    • 5 and Art.9 of the E-Privacy directive (2002): consent is needed from the data subject if geolocated data is to be processed; derogatory measures entailed in Art.15 of this Directive may provide for exceptions to such consent but it would require a law to be passed in France (pursuant to Art.34 of the French Constitution)
    • GDPR provisions when non-anonymised personal data is to be used
  • « Although technology and data processing may be very helpful in keeping with such health crisis, it is difficult today to assess the effective benefit from such apparatus because we lack sufficient perspective. This is all the more the case that the use of such technology may vary, both in terms of collected data and of the purpose for their collection”.
  • Recommendation –> collection and processing only if the data subject agrees on it (informed consent) with no detrimental consequence in case of refusal / time-limited authorisation; any compulsory transmission and processing of personal data would otherwise require that a law is passed with a clear demonstration that such provisions are time-limit and in compliance with the principles of necessity and proportionality

Are there instances of law enforcement authorities exceeding powers? Can you provide a summary/summaries?

Excessive use of force by the police

Media reports:

Members of the Yellow Vests movement have requested for the Ombudsman to enquire on police violence [9]

Excessive and arbitrariness of sanctions often reported: usually associated with the very imprecise way the decree providing for reasons to leave home was adopted: what does “highly pressing family reasons” really mean for instance?

This has led 2 lawyers in Toulouse, on 9 April 2020[10], to question the legality of the law enforcement authorities’ powers when asking citizens to comply with obligations whose legality may be challenged. They also challenge the risk of abuse or arbitrariness in the way law enforcement officers may decide to sanction this or that person leaving home for allegedly unjustified reasons.

Also see this reaction by the National Lawyers Trade Union (10 April 2020[11]): open letter to the French Prime Minister

Have any restrictions been placed on the media, or instructions handed down to media organisations, regarding reporting on the pandemic?

Not publicly-known.

What (if any) role has been given to the military?

To follow-up on the challenging of the state’s response, you may also want to read the following contributions and NGO statement:

All decisions by the Council of State in response to the urgent claims lodged in relation to the state of emergency measures impacting civil liberties during the health crisis:



[2] P.5 of the above Dalloz reference





[7] Ibid: “Ainsi, les arrêtés de couvre-feu pris en Moselle le 24 mars par les maires de Florange et de Guénange ont été invalidés par le préfet du département. Décision appuyée par la préfète du Grand Est, Josiane Chevalier, qui « incite les maires à prendre les mesures adaptées ». « Le couvre-feu peut l’être dans certains cas, il faut vraiment adopter des mesures proportionnées, rappelle-t-elle. Seul le préfet peut prendre une mesure restrictive, les arrêtés pris par les maires ne sont pas légaux. »

Il en va de même dans le Calvados. Le préfet, Philippe Court, a demandé le retrait de l’arrêté pris par le maire de Lisieux, Bernard Aubril, interdisant la circulation dans sa commune de 22 heures à 5 heures à compter du vendredi 27 mars. Le préfet a estimé que cet arrêté n’avait « pas d’effet utile » et qu’il n’était « ni fondé en droit ni approprié ».







Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

 Previous article


Next article 



Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error