Virtual Parliaments: Principles and Practices
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in measures to control the spread of the virus in most countries, including social distancing and instructions to work from home for many workers. Parliaments are a key governance institution and it is essential that their functions should be able to continue during this time, but also that they are following the rules laid out for the country. Parliaments attempting to operate virtually will face procedural, practical and political challenges, which are all interlinked. If they are unable to meet these challenges, they risk leaving a legislative and oversight vacuum, which may be filled by alternative political, governmental or protest movements. Equally, they may face increasing public dissatisfaction with an institution that often struggles to adapt to the modern age. Each parliament’s response to the crisis will be different, building on existing resources and capabilities, and being shaped by local political priorities. International comparison is therefore invaluable, not only in terms of technological innovation, but also in relation to managing the practicalities and the politics of change. Parliaments around the world have already begun to experiment with new and innovative ways of working, including remote or ‘virtual’ sittings, for plenary, committee and ongoing administrative business. This paper provides an outline of the key questions to be considered when parliaments are shifting to remote working and/or virtual sessions. It gives brief examples of responses from parliaments so far and the issues they have raised.