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States of Emergency: Liberty, Authority and the Law

4 May 2020

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In the latest episode of our podcast series COVID-19: The Pandemic and Europe we explore the nature, intellectual history and justification of emergency powers. 

Jeff King, Professor of Law (UCL Laws) and a Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, giving advice on the Coronavirus Bill before it was passed by Parliament.

Valentina Arena, Associate Professor in Roman History (UCL History), author of Libertas and the Practice of Politics in the Late Roman Republic (CUP, 2012), and interested in how ancient theories of liberty may contribute to contemporary political debates.

Nomi Claire Lazar, Associate Dean of Faculty (Yale-NUS College), author of States of Emergency in Liberal Democracies (CUP, 2009), and recently member of a panel advising Canada's Chief Science Advisor on rights derogating technologies.


In times of urgency, governments habitually concentrate power and restrict citizens’ rights. The current situation is no different: in order to prevent or control the spread of COVID-19, governments around the world have issued stay at home orders and temporarily closed businesses.

While such measures are clearly necessary, it remains important that we scrutinise the extraordinary powers conferred upon governments and interrogate whether their legal basis is satisfactory.

We would also do well to think more broadly about what emergencies do to liberal democracies, and how they stretch further the tensions between liberty and constraint, order and justice, that inhere in any rule-of-law state.

In this latest episode of our new podcast series COVID-19: The Pandemic and Europe, EI Executive Director Uta Staiger is in conversation with Jeff King (UCL Laws), Valentina Arena (UCL History) and Nomi Claire Lazar (Yale-NUS Politics) to explore states of emergency from the Roman Republic to today’s UK, from Carl Schmitt to privacy-respecting contact tracing systems. 

This podcast was recorded on Friday, 24 April. The speed of coronavirus developments means there may be new information by the time you listen. In the coming weeks, we will continue to provide more content and analysis as the situation develops. For the latest updates, please subscribe to our email newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

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