The COVID-19 pandemic and states' responses to it are having an unprecedented effect on the functioning of justice systems globally. Courts are closing, reducing, or adjusting their operations, which can negatively impact the provision of timely and fair hearings, contribute to increased case backlogs, and lead to increased length of judicial and administrative proceedings. Certain groups, including women and children at risk of violence, undocumented migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, and those in migrant detention centres are acutely affected by these changes. Reduced court operations may also result in the prolonged detention of pretrial detainees or of prisoners eligible for early release. Without functioning judicial oversight, persons detained while emergency measures are in place to contain the virus may not be brought before a judge in a timely manner.
As states enact emergency regulations to counter the spread of COVID-19, judicial oversight of the implementation of emergency measures is critical to avoid the excessive use of emergency powers. The socio-economic impact of the crisis will also have significant justice-related implications as inequalities are exacerbated. Specific efforts will be required to improve access to legal services and legal information to empower people and communities to resolve their disputes, seek redress for rights violations, or counter discrimination on a range of issues including housing, employment, legal/residency status, access to health benefits or other social protection mechanisms.
This publication highlights some considerations and strategic entry points for practitioners in ensuring access to justice for all in the context of COVID-19. It emphasizes the importance of upholding the rule of law, protecting and respecting international human rights standards and basic principles of legality, including the rights to equality before the courts and to a fair trial, as part of preparation, response, and recovery efforts on COVID-19.