A question of Trust? Hard and Soft Law during the Covid-19 Pandemic

  • Date: –17:00
  • Location: Zoom
  • Lecturer: Raff Donelson (Penn State University) Gina Gustavsson (Uppsala University) Tom Hickman QC (University College London) Guillermo Jimenez (Adolfo Ibáñez University) Kristen Rundle (University of Melbourne) Benjamin van Rooij (University of Amsterdam) Pauline Westerman (University of Groningen) Olof Wilske (Uppsala University)
  • Contact person: Patricia Mindus
  • Workshop

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced governments around the world to take unprecedented (at least in peace times) public policy measures to slow down (or suppress) the circulation of the virus. While arguably every country has adopted a different mix of regulatory tools in fighting the pandemic, a narrative has emerged that pitted ‘softer’ approaches (like that of Sweden, Netherlands, or the United Kingdom back in March 2020) against ‘harder’ ones (nation-wide ‘lockdowns’, with criminalisation of everyday behaviours). This alternative is variously being discussed in terms of the supposed efficacy of soft law regulatory tools like guidance vis-à-vis traditional ‘hard’ regulation. A different question is that of the legitimacy of deploying trust-based regulatory tools or administrative and criminal sanctions during a public health emergency. This latter issue does not seem to have attracted much attention.

This might be due, at least in part, to the default assumption in political and legal theory, reflected in several areas of law and policymaking, that it is morally preferable to avoid forcing people to obey rules and ensure compliance non-coercively. In the study of regulatory phenomena, it has also been stressed over the last decades that it is all things considered preferable for the lawmaker to opt for soft law tool whenever possible. This assumption informs much work on soft law in contemporary social science, also as a realization of the principle of subsidiarity. But when exactly is this possible? Does the context of a global public health emergency, like the one we are currently living in, call for a problematisation of this default assumption? What is the wider impact of choosing soft or had law tools in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic? And does this impact change between different social groups? Do these regulatory choices disproportionately affect some but not others? And what is the interplay between soft and hard law tools from a functional point of view?

These are just some of the questions that we plan to address in our online international conference. Through four thematic panels of distinguished speakers from different methodological backgrounds, we seek to highlight consonances and dissonances in the regulatory choices taken by different governments around the world, and to problematise the legitimacy of those choices in light of wider principles of political and social theory. We also set aside time for questions from the audience.

The conference will take place on Zoom, it will be recorded and made available online. The event is free, but registration is required. For registration please contact patricia.mindus@uppsalaforum.uu.se