MelbForum2020: Launch of three new Constitutional INSIGHTS briefs

17 September 2021

The fifth Melbourne Forum on Constitution Building in Asia and the Pacific was held on line for the first time, as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. The topic of the 2020 Melbourne Forum was "Representation in Democracies in Emergencies".

The Melbourne Forum 2020 tackled issues for democratic representation from the standpoint of emergencies. Representation faces particular challenges in times of emergency. Emergencies come in a wide variety of forms, however, potentially affecting representation in different ways. The Melbourne Forum 2020 used as its lens into the impact of emergencies on democratic representation the Covid-19 pandemic, which have given rise to both health and economic emergencies of major proportions in countries across the world. These two linked emergencies, in turn, have called for an effective response by states, with results that have varied from impressive success to significant failure. To examine these dynamics and their links with representation, the 2020 Melbourne Forum drew on the experiences of states across Asia and the Pacific, as a vast and diverse region of the world that represents a substantial component of global constitutional experience.

Following on from that Forum, the Constitution Transformation Team, with support from International IDEA published three Constitutional INSIGHTS which discussed and summarised some of the key insights shared during the Forum. These three policy briefs were launched in advance of the 2021 Melbourne Forum.

Constitutional INSIGHT #6 is on "Legal Approaches to Responding to Emergencies: Covid-19 as a Case Study".  The Covid-19  pandemic saw the invocation of a diverse range of constitutional and legislative provisions to enable government responses to the unexpected health crisis. Constitutional INSIGHTS No. 6 examines the use and non-use of constitutional and legislative state of emergency powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on examples from across Asia and the Pacific, the INSIGHTS investigates the implications of both constitutional and legislative responses for other democratic rights and processes and identifies lessons for the future exercise of emergency powers, including the continued importance of parliamentary oversight of executive action during states of emergency.

Constitutional INSIGHT #7 is titled "How Federations Responded to Covid-19". The existence of two levels of government, each with their own constitutional powers and democratic accountability, shaped the responses of federal countries to the pandemic. Constitutional INSIGHTS No. 7 examines lessons learned from about the purposes, design and operation of federations over the course of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Key features and challenges of federal systems are considered, including the division and allocation of powers and fiscal resources; collaboration and cooperation between levels of government; and the challenges of democratic accountability.  Drawing on lessons from across Asia and the Pacific, the INSIGHTS highlights that observing how federations responded to the pandemic can usefully guide future design choices for federal systems worldwide.

Constitutional INSIGHT #8 is titled "Beyond Representation in Pandemic Responses: Independent and International Institutions". The Covid-19 pandemic shone a light on the key roles played by unelected, independent institutions and international bodies, from public health actors to courts, the World Health Organization and beyond. Constitutional INSIGHTS No. 8 explores the types of independent institutions that have shaped efforts to counteract the spread of Covid-19 across Asia and the Pacific. Four principal functions of these institutions are considered: sources of expertise; implementation mechanisms; constraints on government action; and linkage actors mediating between the domestic, transnational and international spheres.  Drawing on the experiences from Fiji, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and others, this edition of Constitutional INSIGHTS identifies globally relevant lessons learned, including the need for an expansive view of democratic legitimacy and the importance of institutional coordination.