Case 39/84

Acórdão N.º 39/84
Download Judgment: Portuguese
Country: Portugal
Region: Europe
Year: 1984
Court: Constitutional Court
Health Topics: Health care and health services, Health systems and financing
Human Rights: Right to health
Tags: Access to health care, Budget, Health expenditures, Health funding

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The President wished to remove significant portions of Law No. 56/79 that established the National Health Service. The law was created by parliament and thus the President argued that the parliament holds all power to alter or remove the law.

The President also intended to repeal and replace Law No. 488/75, but the constitutionality of this action was not considered by the court.

The court found that the constitutional right to health obligated the government to establish a national health service and to undo that action would be unconstitutional. The Court found that the constitutional obligation was originally a positive obligation for the government to create the service. But, once the government created the service, the obligation became both the original positive obligation and a negative obligation to not undo the creation of the service.

“Que o Estado não dê a devida realização às tarefas constitucionais, concretas e determinadas, que lhe estão cometidas, isso só poderá ser objecto de censura constitucional em sede de inconstitucionalidade por omissão. Mas quando desfaz o que já havia sido realizado para cumprir essa tarefa, e com isso atinge uma garantia de um direito fundamental, então a censura constitucional já se coloca no plano da própria inconstitucionalidade por acção.

Se a Constituição impõe ao Estado a realização de uma determinada tarefa — a criação de uma certa instituição, uma determinada alteração na ordem jurídica —, então, quando ela seja levada a cabo, o resultado passa a ter a protecção directa da Constituição. O Estado não pode voltar atrás, não pode descumprir o que cumpriu, não pode tornar a colocar-se na situa¬ção de devedor. Quando, por exemplo, em cumprimento do artigo 101.º, n.º 2, da Constituição, que ordenava a extinção do regime de colónia, este veio a ser efectivamente extinto, o Estado não pode, posterior¬mente, vir a revogar a extinção da colónia e a restaurar essa figura. Se o fizesse, incorreria em violação positiva do artigo 101.º da Constituição.” (Section 2.3.3)

If the State does not comply with the due realization of concrete and determinate constitutional tasks that it has in charge, it can be held responsible for a constitutional omission. However, when the State undoes what it had already done to comply with those tasks, and thus affects a constitutional guarantee, then it is the State action which amounts to a constitutional wrong. If the Constitution imposes upon the State a certain task – the creation of a certain institution, a certain modification of the legal order – then, when that task has already been complied with, its outcome becomes constitutionally protected. The State cannot move backwards – it cannot undo what it has already accomplished, it cannot go backwards and put itself again in the position of debtor….

Generally, social rights translate themselves in a duty to act, especially a duty to create public institutions (such as the school system, the social security system, etcetera). If these institutions are not created, the Constitution can only give ground to claims for their creation. But, after they have been created, the Constitution protects their existence, as if they already existed when the Constitution was adopted. The constitutional tasks imposed on the State as a guarantee for fundamental rights, consisting in the creation of certain institutions or services, do not only oblige their creation, but also a duty not to abolish them once created. This means that, since the moment when the State complies (totally or partially) the constitutionally imposed tasks to realize a social right, the constitutional respect of this right ceases to be (or to be exclusively) a positive obligation, thereby also becoming a negative obligation. The State, which was obliged to act to satisfy a social right, also becomes obliged to abstain from threatening the realization of that social right.

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