Africa: UN Expert Outlines Urgent Steps to Ensure Justice Systems Are Not Paralysed By COVID-19

Geneva — "The COVID-19 crisis is already severely affecting the right of societies to an operative and independent judicial system. In this context, the lack of access to an independent justice opens doors to abusive behaviour and a risk of impunity," he said.

The expert noted that as the health crisis erodes economic and social stability, and recessions loom, the risk of more violence and crime may increase. "An immediate streamlining of justice services to prioritise essential cases is needed and prosecution of minor, civil or economic cases should be postponed."

García-Sayán also said the increased risk of coronavirus infection in crowded prisons could be lowered if pre-trial detentions were minimised and political prisoners, minor offenders and those who have served most of their terms were considered for release.

"Judges, magistrates, public prosecutors and their staff should get special health attention in COVID-19 testing programmes, given that they have to participate in hearings, interact with lawyers and be in contact with several authorities and groups," the expert stressed.

"Innovation and online working is essential, especially by tribunals and judges who have to deal with human rights or a growing insecurity situation that is being envisaged. Lockdowns and 'physical distancing' shouldn't prevent the judicial system from following due process guarantees," said the Special Rapporteur.

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