IMPACT OF COVID-19 IN JUDICIAL SYSTEM : TRANSITION TO THE ONLINE

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ABSTRACT

The outbreak of this pandemic disease i.e. Covid-19 is influencing litigation in numerous manners and has additionally injured the courts the nation over as judges, lawyers and litigants are  attempting to accomplish justice under the law while adjusting   open security. The quick spread of this infection has prompted the shutting down of Courts and Tribunals in the nation to maintain a strategic distance i.e social distancing from human affiliation and to check the spread of novel coronavirus in the nation. In any case,   the Central Government and Judiciary has found a way to give alleviation to the individuals who are confronting this uncommon test. Despite the fact that the courts have been closed down, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has chosen to take up urgent   issues by means of virtual procedures with the goal that the adv.  and litigants don’t need to show up genuinely in the court in this current circumstance. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has additionally guided the separate Bars to advance virtual procedures and e-filing. Indeed, even the Courts suo-moto, taking cognizance of the difficulties being looked by the lawyers to introduce under the steady gaze of the Court truly for documenting of separate Appeals, Petitions, and so forth and has expanded the time of constraint   until its further order, with this, would like to battle against coronavirus.

CONTENTS

A.        INTRODUCTION…………………..………………………………….

1. Introduction and objective……………………………….………………

2.      Methodology…………………………………………………………………..

3. International Law……………………………………………………………

4.  Safeguards at particular risk during an emergency…………………

B.          OVERALL OBSERVATIONS AND CHALLENGES…………..

  1. Differences across countries and courts…………………………….
    1. Need for constant revision and adaptation…………………………
    1. Backdrop for existing challenges for judicial system…………….
    1. Cooperation between legal professions and the importance of

communication………………………………………………………………

5. Who decides?…………………………………………………………………..

  • Disproportionate impact on certain groups……………….………..
  • Legality, data protection and privacy………………………………….

8. Recommendations…………………………………………………………..

C.          VIDEOCONFERENCING AND OTHER IT SOLUTIONS….

  1. Electronic Case Management……………………………………………
    1. Problems faced with IT Solutions…………………………………….
    1. Videoconferencing and remote hearings…………………………….
    1. Conditions and criteria for the use of remote hearings……………
  • COURTS DURING THE PANDEMIC…………………..……….

1. Defining urgent cases…………………………………………………….

  • Who determines urgency…………………………………………………
  • Knock-on impact of external pressures on the courts………………

4. Recommendations…………………………………………………………..

E.       CONCLUSION

  1. INTRODUCTION
  1. Introduction and Objective

The Outbreak of  this  pandemic  disease  i.e.  Covid-19 influencing litigation in  numerous  manners  and  has additionally injured the courts the nation  as  judges , lawyers  and litigants are accomplish to justice under the law while adjusting open security . The quick spread of this infection

has decided the shutting down of Courts and tribunals in  the  nation  to  maintain  a  strategic  distance  i.e.   social distancing from human affiliation and to check the spread  of  novel coronavirus in the nation.

Central government and Judiciary has found a way to give alleviation to the individuals  who  are  confronting  this  uncommon test . Despite the fact  that  the  courts  have  been closed down , the  Hon’ble  Supreme  Court  of  India  has  chosen  to take up urgent  issues  by  means  of  virtual  procedures  with  the  goal  that  the  advocates  and  litigants  don’t  need  to  show  up genuinely in the court in this current circumstance .

Yet courts  have  vital  function  during  and  after  the  pandemic ,  in  particular  to  ensure  judicial   scrutiny   of   emergency legislation and to provide an effective remedy against excessive emergency  measures  in  individual  cases . Uninterrupted   access to  courts  is  also  required   in   other   urgent   legal  matters , and to  uphold  access  to  justice  in  general . Courts  have  attempted   to address this in various ways , some closing their  buildings entirely , others  remaining  partially  open , and  all  having  to  move swiftly to delivery of justice remotely and through online platforms.

  • Methodology

The publication draws  upon  comprehensive  research , the review of multitude of documents and  country – related  examples received from numerous conversations and much correspondence , participation in the number of relevant webinars organized by other organizations , and a  series  of online consultations with members of judiciary and judicial organizations , the legal profession and civil society . These consultations also provided examples of how different courts across the participating States  were  responding  to  the pandemic .

Online  consultations organized between  April and June 2020 :-

. 9th April 2020: Webinar on “ The functioning of courts in the COVID-19 pandemic ”.

. 7th May 2020: Webinar on “ Courts in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic ”.

. 4th June 2020: Online Consultation on health and safety measures in the context of reopening courts .

. 9th June 2020: Online consultation on “ How to ‘ triage’ cases, i.e., prioritization of cases and court facilities during lockdown and once courts are re-opening ” .

. 18th June 2020: Online consultation “ New types of cases as a consequence of the pandemic ”.

. 16th June 2020: The Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (CEELI) organized a joint webinar with ODIHR on “ Exit Strategies & Court Management post COVID-19 ”.

. 17th August 2020: Online Consultation on the draft primer on the functioning of courts during the COVID-19 pandemic .

The publication sought to include a variety of examples from different countries and regions ; however , it did not aim at referencing all 57 OSCE participating States. While a geographically  representative approach  was  the  aim , it   may not have always been possible to achieve . The examples are illustrative rather than  exhaustive, and  their  use  intends  to share information about challenges, measures and  practices rather than single out any countries or courts. Nevertheless, recommendations are provided at the end of each chapter, consolidated  in  a  checklist  and  the  end  of  the  primer,  to assist courts in managing future pandemics and emergency situations.

3.        International   Law

The Observance of the rule of law , “based on respect for internationally recognized human rights , including the right to a fair trial, the right to an effective remedy , and the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention ”, may never be more relevant than in times of crisis and emergency . Judicial

independence has repeatedly been recognized as a prerequisite to the rule of law and as a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial. Moreover, OSCE participating  States  have  stressed unequivocally that the rule of law is not merely about formal legality but justice based on the recognition and full acceptance of the supreme value of the human personality and guaranteed by institutions providing a framework for its fullest expression. In order to ensure the  rule  of  law  and  access  to  justice more broadly, participating States committed to pay due attention to the efficient administration of justice and proper management of the court system. Even in times of emergency, overall respect for rule of law  principles should be ensured. In particular, recourse to states of emergency “ may not be used to subvert the democratic constitutional order, nor aim at the destruction of internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and “Continuation of a state of public emergency not in accordance with provisions laid down by law is not permissible”.

Under International law instruments , States can temporarily derogate  from certain rights  during  states of emergency (Article 4 ICCPR , Article 15 ECHR ). However, certain rights are non-derogable  even  in  states  of  emergency .  These  include the  right to be  protected  from torture and ill-treatment, as well as elements of the right to a fair trial , such  as  the resumption of innocence , and  rights  that  are  required  to ensure the protection of expressly  non-derogable  rights, including the right to an effective remedy .

Even when no  derogation  is  sought , emergency  measures which restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms must comply with the requirements provided in the international human rights instruments . Such limitations  must  be  provided for by law , be necessary and proportionate and non-discriminatory . Limitations must not be applied  in  such  a way  or  to   such  an  extent  that  the  very  essence  of  the  right  to a fair trial is impaired. During a state of emergency, participating States  committed  “ to  ensure  that  the   legal   guarantees necessary  to  uphold  the  rule  of  law  will  remain  in  force ” and    “ to  provide  in  their  law  for  control  over  the  regulations   related to the state of public emergency , as well as the implementation of such regulations ”. As the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ( OHCHR ) notes , there should also be “ meaningful  judicial  oversight  of  exceptional  measures  or a state of emergency to ensure that they comply with the limitations ” under international law . Furthermore , ” emergency measures , including derogation or suspension of certain rights, should be subject to periodic and independent review by the legislature ”.

For more information about OSCE commitments and  international law in the context of states of  emergency , see  ODIHR’s  report OSCE Human  Dimension  Commitments  and  state  responses  to the Covid-19 Pandemic .

4.     Safeguards               at      particular              risk        during an Emergency .

As a recent Declaration of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) noted , the key standards underpinning  the  operationalization  of the Courts must continue even during times of emergency. Most crucially , the right to a fair  trial , applicable  to  both  civil  and criminal proceedings , as set out in Article 14 of the

International Covenant on Civil  and  Political  Rights ( ICCPR )  and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights  (ECHR) are at particular jeopardy . This right encompasses the principles of the presumption  of  innocence ; the  rights  to  a  public hearing and to defence; equality  of  arms ; the  right  to  legal representation ; and to  examine  evidence  and  witnesses from the other parties ; as  well  as  to  an  interpreter  as appropriate .

A functional court system and fair trial rights are also fundamental in order to prevent the arbitrary deprivation of liberty . For example , Article 9 of the ICCPR and  Article 5  of  the ECHR require a  trial  within  a  reasonable  time  and  various safeguards including review of the legality of the

detention by a competent court . Importantly , Article 9(3) of the ICCPR  provides  that “ anyone  arrested  or  detained  on  a  criminal charge shall be brought  promptly  before  a  judge  or  other  officer  authorized  by  law  to  exercise  judicial  power ”,   with  the  Human  Rights  Committee  stating  that  this  should  be   “ in person ”.

It has also been apparent that  there  have  been  difficulties  for  trial monitors and  those  monitoring  places  of  detention  to  access hearings and  detention  facilities , thereby  they  put  their life  at  risk  and  their  role  in  the  identification  and  prevention  of  violations. Independent  monitoring  of  places  of  detention  is  a recognized safeguard against torture and ill-treatment, the protection of which constitutes a non-derogable right.

The  need  to  react  quickly  to  a  rapidly  changing  situation  of   an  unprecedented  nature  is  bound  to  create  a  risk  in  terms     of the principles  of  legality  and  legal  certainty. The  constraints  of national parliaments  in  times  of  lockdown  and  the  temptation  of  different  levels  of  policymakers  to  adopt  a  myriad of laws and regulations without consultation added to

this problem. Overall, there  is  a  considerable  risk  of  an  erosion of  the  rule  of  law  in  responses  to  this  pandemic  and  states  of emergency overall.

In times of emergency, power  tends  to  shift  towards  the  executive, upending the separation of  powers  and  the independence of the judiciary. This danger may be even more pronounced in an emergency like the COVID-19  pandemic  given the lock-down measures and the resulting reduced

functionality  of  parliaments  and  courts. There   is   a  risk   that the imbalance between the three state  powers  will  persist  after  the end of the emergency and is thereby “ normalized ”.

It is, therefore, crucial to constantly review  and  re-assess emergency measures against necessity, proportionality and non- discrimination requirements. As  the  European  Commission  for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ)  has  noted, it  is  worth  keeping  in  mind  principles  of “ flexibility, dialogue, innovation  and concern for the needs and situation of vulnerable groups ”.

  • OVERALL   CHALLENGES AND OBSERVATIONS

1.         Differences  across  countries  and across Courts

Courts have faced a lots of challenges  during  the  pandemic.  Some courthouses and buildings closed fully, others partially, dealing with only “ urgent ” cases. The extent  to  which  judges  and court staff have been able to operate in person and

virtually during  this  time  has  depended  on  the  particular State’s response to the  pandemic, the  regulations  imposed  by  the  authorities  and  the  type  of  court  and  cases   they   deal with. Not all courthouses , staff members or members of the judiciary have been available, impacting how  cases  were prioritized  and  allocated. In  some  countries, it  was  necessary for courts to share facilities and staff among different courts (family, criminal, civil and administrative courts, where they are separated), and these courts may have  considered  different criteria to determine priorities .

This  situation,  and  the  immediate  aftermath,  has   had   a number of  consequences. There  has  been  a  speedy  shift  to online  working  in  order  to  deal  with  the  lockdown  and  rules  on physical distancing . Emergency legislation has been adopted, sometimes with limited parliamentary oversight. In addition,  the  speed  of  amendments  to  laws  and  regulations  has  made  it difficult for legal challenges to be brought to the courts.

There have been numerous laws, regulations  and  policies directed towards the judiciary, amended frequently, and not always consistent in their approach. Moreover, judicial self- governing  bodies  and  judges  associations  have  not  always been  consulted  on  measures  and  their  possible  impacts  on  the judicial system. In addition, tensions have arisen between the judiciary and lawyers  or  between  state  authorities ( such as  the  executive  versus  the  judicial   branch ) with   each   having their own priorities and demands. Overall, one can see in many jurisdictions a lack of unified approach to justice during the state of emergency .

Not all courts in all States have experienced  the  same  issues.  There was  significant  variation  in  how  countries  have approached  the  management  of  courts , and  there  have  also been disparities within those countries . Similarly , common law  and civil law jurisdictions may have experienced different

challenges in adapting to the pandemic . Furthermore, the various courts and tribunals whether they be criminal, administrative, civil, immigration or family – first instance or appellate – have not all faced the  same  challenges  in continuing to operate during this time .

2.         Need for constant revision and adaptation

The environment  has  been  changing  rapidly  during  the pandemic . What was considered urgent at one point in time changed as countries went through different  stages in  the pandemic , in  particular  after  the   end   of   lockdowns. In addition, there can be different or competing pressures on  what  are  considered  to  be  priorities , including  from  the  point  of  view of judges and lawyers .

As countries started to emerge  from  lockdowns , courts initiated  the  development  of  “ exit strategies ”. In  Denmark, for  example ,  a “ Plan  for  Reopening  Courts ” set  out  the cases  that   can proceed without physical presence , those that should  be  carried out at  home  and  those  that demand  particular  attention . The plan  included  criteria  for  prioritizing  cases , managing  health  and safety  in  court  buildings , dealing  with  those  who  are infected , those who have symptoms  of  COVID-19  or  individuals  at risk , and approaching cases flexibly . Another  example  is Finland , where  the  National  Courts   Administration published   a “ recovery plan ” on 29 May 2020 , drafted in cooperation with occupational health professionals .

3.         Backdrops for existing challenges for Judicial System

The responses to the  COVID-19  pandemic  have  taken place against  a  backdrop  of  challenges  that  courts  have been  facing  for many years in a number of States . Financial constraints , ineffective procedures and the inability to deliver speedy justice remained . In addition , rule of law concerns observed in some countries  have been  exacerbated  by  the  crisis . In   addition , some participating States have seen a power shift during the pandemic away from the judiciary towards the executive, with a concern that this may become “normalized” and permanent.

Further, in some jurisdictions, the absence of a functioning Constitutional and Supreme Court impeded effective oversight of emergency legislation.

On  the  positive  side , the  pandemic  has  created  an incentive  for countries to review and reform justice systems . This has reignited  discussions , for  example , on virtual  justice   and remote delivery , as well as debates on how to reduce over- criminalization and over-incarceration by enhancing the use of non-custodial sentences and community-based approaches to offender treatment ( e.g., refraining from responding to minor , non-violent offences with imprisonment ).

4.        Cooperation between legal professions and the importance of communication

The judicial system  is  based  on  interaction  between  many actors , including various professions ( e.g., lawyers , paralegals , probation officers ), as well as members of the public . Policymakers and practitioners should , therefore , consult with relevant legal professions  when  adopting  measures  during  and  in the aftermath of the pandemic .

This is crucial in order  to  take  into  account  all  possible effects and impacts of measures  adopted , to  ensure  the earliest possible dissemination of information to all parties potentially affected and to avoid conflict within the judicial sector at a time of  crisis . For  example , lawyers  in  Greece went on strike after the reopening of some courts was announced , arguing that they had not been consulted on the plans and neither had the health authorities approved the reopening . In Spain , on 1 April , three of the four main judges associations sent an urgent letter to  the  Permanent Commission of the General Council of the Judiciary , warning that they would refuse to work if  not  provided  with  real means of health protection .

Therefore , as the European Commission for the Efficiency of  Justice ( CEPEJ ) noted , “ Greater consultation and coordination with all justice professionals ( including lawyers , enforcement agents , mediators  and  social  services) will  help  to  ensure   a good level of access to justice .” Sharing of experiences is also  crucial in order to incorporate lessons learnt in any future .

Furthermore , measures and protocols adopted in  relation  to  courts need  to  be  communicated  to  all  relevant  persons including  lawyers  and  their  associations   and   their   views sought. Due to the nature of the pandemic and the rapid adjustments it necessitates , effective communication is required within  a  particularly  short  period  of  time  on , for  example ,    how to visit courts in person , in  which  cases  hearings  will  be  held  remotely , which  criteria  are  used  to  determine  urgent  cases  and  how  cases  will  be  prioritized  in  managing   the backlog .

A  number  of  courts  have  provided  detailed  information  on  their websites to this end . For example , the Courts Service of Ireland published updates on the operation  and  conduct  of various  court  business  including  on  e-filing  and  remote hearings . A “ courts and  tribunals  tracker  list ” by  the Government of the United Kingdom provides  information  on which courts are open , staffed or suspended .

Different forms of  communication  may  be  needed  to  reach  other  audiences . Those  who  have  to  attend  court  in  person,   for  example , may  need  to  know  whether  this  is  feasible  and    if so , what procedures will be in place when they arrive . In Slovenia , for example , when individuals were invited to attend court they  were  provided  with  detailed  protocols  explaining  how  the  processes  will  be  managed . In  States  outside  the OSCE , some courts  have  used  the  application  WhatsApp  to keep  in  touch  with  lawyers  and  provide   them   with information. This practice reduced the number of people who needed to enter court buildings .

5.         Who  decides ?

The  question  of  decision – making  powers  and responsibilities , i.e., who  has  the  authority  for   deciding   how   the   judicial system should respond to the pandemic at  various  stages , has  been a recurring and crucial matter , with different approaches adopted depending on the issue and the jurisdiction .

In  some  jurisdictions , decisions  on  how  to  manage   courts during and post-pandemic have been taken by the executive authorities ,  with  or  without   consultation   from   the   judiciary . In some States and contexts , measures have been set out in legislation and procedural laws , while  others  have  been determined by the judicial authorities such as judicial councils

or by  judges  themselves . For  some  matters , it  was  a combination of these actors . In Poland, Court  Presidents made  the decisions , although recommendations were prepared by the Ministry  of  Justice . Similarly, the  Judicial   Councils   of Lithuania and Albania  provided  guidance  to  the  judiciary  on  how  to  organize  their  court  activities   and   measures   that should be adopted during the pandemic .

Experience indicates  that  a  balance  should  be  found  between  the requirement of clarity and predictability of solutions and decisions on the  one  hand  and  flexibility  to  decide  on  a  case-  to- case  basis  on  the  other . The  former   is   invaluable   to prevent  arbitrary  decisions  and  unpredictable  outcomes   for court users , in line with the  principle  of  legal  certainty . The  latter maintains  judicial  discretion  and  allows  taking  into account  the  specificities  of  the  case  as  well  as  the   location , type and size of the court .

6.      Disproportionate  impact  on certain Groups

It is apparent that in many jurisdictions there has been a disproportionate impact on certain groups , in particular those already  marginalized  and  vulnerable   in society . For   more   on the  impact  of  emergency  measures  on  marginalized   and minority groups , see ODIHR’s comprehensive report OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and State Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic , published in July 2020 .

The right to access  justice  of  marginalized  and vulnerable groups  should  be   taken  into   consideration  in  determining what is urgent , and in the delivery of technological solutions . Support for these individuals should continue throughout the pandemic and will need to adapt as courts emerge from the pandemic .

For example , marginalized communities are unlikely  to have  access to videoconferencing technology and risk being disadvantaged in terms of access to justice . If individuals are visually impaired or have  an  intellectual disability , this  may impact their ability to participate fully in any remote hearing. Impairments may not be immediately  apparent  but  may  still  make effective participation of parties with cognitive impairment, mental health condition and/or neuro-diverse condition more difficult .

Particular considerations are required where parties  or  witnesses require confidentiality , privacy and safety , for example in domestic violence cases , where abusive partners would be able to intimidate victims during videoconferences .

Victims of trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic Control , violence  and  isolation  by  their  exploiters increased  the  exposure of victims of trafficking as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic , aggravated by less access to assistance , including medical services , psychological services and legal assistance .

Changes in procedure , delays  and  postponements  in administrative , criminal  and  civil  cases  as  a   result   of emergency measures negatively impacted victims and survivors access to protection , justice and redress . According to a global survey of survivors of trafficking and frontline stakeholders conducted by ODIHR and UN Women (between 27 April and 18 May 2020), about  half  of  the survivors  experienced  delays  in receiving the statutory status of victim of trafficking or  in  other types of  legal procedures . Respondents  also  indicated  that they are not  receiving  information  about  the  status  of their cases .

7.      Legality , data protection and privacy

Even  though  IT  solutions  may  have  been  required  at  the first wave of the pandemic  ,  their  use  in  addition  to  or  as  an alternative  to  existing  procedural  requirements  necessitates   a clear  basis  in  law  ,  and  must   comply   with  international standards  on  data  protection  and   privacy.  Confidential information being shared accidentally (e.g., for failure to mute microphones), respecting privilege , challenges ensuring private hearings  are  not  recorded  –  all  are   issues   that   courts   have faced .

As considered in section D below , when accessing  and  sharing  files in electronic interactions between individuals and using videoconferencing , data must be transmitted securely and confidentially . In  Lithuania , for  example , the  judiciary  and  court  staff  working  remotely  must  comply  with  the government’s  Resolution  no. 716  of   24 July 2013   on   the General Description of Electronic Information Security. The exponential and rapid increase  in  the  use  of  different technologies  ,  alongside  constant  changes  to  the   platforms being used , indeed raises concerns over the protection of  such  data . In  addition , there  may  be  lack  of   clarity   about   who owns the data – the provider or the court – in particular when stored in cloud-based solutions. Consequently , considerations about where the data centre is hosted , whether there is  end-  to-end encryption and requirements that court users certify confidentiality  are  all  tools  that  could  be  used  to   ensure greater protection .

8.      Recommendations

  • Flexible exit strategies for emerging from  restrictions  imposed  by the pandemic should be considered by courts .
  • States should avoid “ hyper-production ” of  laws ,  regulations  and  instructions  on  emergency   measures   for   the   judiciary from different levels of power ( legislative , executive , judicial ) . Such laws , regulations and instructions should not  be contradictory  or  vaguely  formulated  and  should  be   clear   on the time  when  the  measures  start  and  end . Laws  and regulations adopted as a response to  the  emergency  should include sunset clauses , be  temporary  in  nature  and  preferably  be kept separate from regular , non-emergency legislation .
  • Courts  should  ensure  that  the  right  to  a  fair   trial   is respected during states of emergency and that nobody is ever subject  to  measures  that  would  circumvent   non-derogable rights .
  • Judicial oversight should be available to review both the constitutionality and legality of any declaration of state of emergency , and any implementing measures , to evaluate the proportionality of the restrictions , as well  as  procedural fairness of application of emergency legislation .
  • Higher judicial authorities and court presidents should issue guidance to assist individual judges in determining  how  to manage their responses to the pandemic . Feedback should be sought , and guidance should be amended accordingly .
  • Courts , when determining measures , should consider how to maintain a balance between  clarity  and  predictability  and judicial discretion and flexibility .
  • Courts could consider the establishment of committees to propose and oversee measures to manage the pandemic .
  • The judiciary should identify ways to share practices on their responses to the pandemic , among and across different courts, different regions of the country and different jurisdictions .
  • Dialogue should  be  established  with  a  wide  range  of professions , in particular with lawyers and bar associations , in order to ensure  that  considerations  of  access  to  justice  and safety measures are adequately taken into account .
  • When designing  their  protocols  and  responses  to  the pandemic , courts should consider the needs  of  vulnerable persons and the particular impact on  their  rights  to  fair  trial  and access to justice .
  • Any measures and protocols should be  communicated  to  all  users , rapidly and regularly , and in ways  which  are  accessible  and  which  take  account  of   vulnerabilities . Those   attending court should be provided with detailed guidance .
  • Alternative means of communicating  with  court  users  should  be considered in order to reduce the numbers  of  persons attending court in person .
  • The secure and confidential transmission of data needs to be ensured  in  the  provision  of   any   technology  used   by   the courts.

C.            VIDEOCONFERENCING  AND  OTHER   IT SOLUTIONS

The most discussed  aspect  of     the impact  of COVID-19 on courts  may be  the rapid increase in the use  of technology to manage the workload of courts and to maintain  some functioning during  lockdown  and  in  its  aftermath. Such  IT solutions include  video  platforms  to  conduct  remote  hearings, systems to enable  the  filing, dissemination  and sharing of documents, digital case  management  and  e- signatures . The use of such technology requires internet connectivity and data security, and access of court users to computers, cameras/webcams, microphones , screens and Wi-Fi. While reluctance among judges to adapt to IT solutions and online delivery  has  been  noted  as  almost  proverbial  in  the  past , the pandemic catapulted the judiciary into the age of technology. Some IT tools have been absorbed by judges enthusiastically in a number of jurisdictions, sometimes overlooking its insufficiencies for parties , and related fair trial concerns.

1.        Electronic   Case  Management

The ability of the judicial system to  operate  remotely  requires  that those involved have access  to , and  are  able  to  file  and  share , documents electronically , and subsequently an effective digital case management system . As the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) noted , this  has  been  problematic  if  courts  are  not fully  adapted  to  using  such  technology . Judicial  systems that require files or motions to be picked up or  delivered  in  person from or to police stations or courthouses faced

problems during lockdown and while public transport was not available or restrictions on movement  applied. Correspondence  with the courts , which required postal services , has also been affected . As a consequence of the pandemic , many States introduced or expanded avenues of electronic filing of court documents . For example , in Azerbaijan , the electronic filing of documents was made possible  with  additional  support  provided  by  telephone   for   each   court . In   Kazakhstan , a “ Judicial Cabinet ” was established that provided access to  the  courts through a single electronic filing  platform . It  enables  the  electronic submission of documents by smartphone , tablet or computer . Statistics  indicated  that  over  62,000   applications (93.5 per cent of all applications) were submitted in this way between March and April 2020 . In Estonia , which has been building  up  its  e-government  system  since  the  mid-1990s , digital access is provided to a range of government services , facilitating also the filing of documents at court .

For cases to be handled remotely, individuals need to be able to prove their identity if they are not physically present in court. To this end, several States have permitted the use of electronic signatures by amending, for example, criminal and civil procedural codes.95 Judges, too, need to be able to authenticate themselves and validate decisions if cases are handled remotely. Several States have introduced an electronic option through the use of e- signatures. In Norway, for example, legislation was amended to permit the adoption of decisions if there is a scanned copy of the presiding judge’s signature and the judge’s confirmation that the other judges have agreed with the decision.

2.         Problem  faced  with IT  Solutions

The speedy adaptation to a range of technologies inevitably generated problems, with different challenges experienced depending on the type of court and hearing. Procedures involving witnesses, children or individuals in detention required specific considerations.

Firstly, prompted by the hasty adaptation to the pandemic, technologies were introduced or expanded without adequate legal basis in some countries. In Bulgaria, for example, concerns have been raised regarding the legality of judges using videoconference technology for hearings on the basis of a governmental recommendation or decree . In Serbia, between 27 March and 1 April, courts used Skype for trials against those charged with breaches of COVID-19 related regulations following a simple instruction sent in a letter by the Ministry of Justice. Subsequently, a decree was signed on 1 April by the President and the Prime Minister to authorize remote hearings. As it lacked clarity, on 9 April the High Judicial Council issued a conclusion stating that it considers the decree applicable only to trials against those charged with breaches of anti-COVID-19 regulations .

Due to the speed of introduction and lack of general guidance to judges, there was also a lack of consistency in the use of IT  solutions, including teleconference hearings; some judges used it, others did not, and judges used it differently. This resulted in confusion of court users and lawyers, and a considerable amount of arbitrariness. Problems included poor internet connection, the lack of necessary equipment among court users, systems that lacked the sophistication to cope with sudden demands, inadequate data protection, lack of training in the use of the new technology and  lack of IT-assistance when difficulties arose.

3.      Recent Updates regarding Videoconferencing

One of the ways in which courts have adapted to lockdowns and the requirements of physical distancing is the use of videoconferencing. Consequently, analysis of the challenges and effective use of videoconferencing to conduct virtual trials and other hearings has become increasingly became available, and guidance for judges in remote hearings has been produced by various judicial authorities.  A variety of different platforms (such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco’s Webex, Polycom Real presence, Cloud Video Platform, BlueJeans, PEXIP, TrueConf, etc.) have been used by the courts, sometimes on an experimental basis. Cost implications of available software means that, where courts do not purchase the necessary licenses, judges may be forced to use free-of-charge applications that do not provide for unlimited length and other features necessary for a remote trial hearing. Some countries and courts have been conducting virtual hearings for some time, and others are seeking to learn lessons from their experiences (see Appendix for list of resources).

Countries where videoconferencing was used in civil and criminal procedures included, among others, Austria, Croatia, France (where hearings were also held by phone), Hungary, Ireland, Kazakhstan (where Zoom and the application TrueConf were used), Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In Ukraine, the State Judicial Administration decided to allow the use of various applications for videoconferencing rather than relying on one.

Participants, however, had to pre-register with a digital signature or login and password details . Some judges reportedly broadcasted hearings via YouTube to ensure public access . In North Macedonia, remote hearings were enabled by Government Directive during the state of emergency; however, the decision was described by judges as very vague. As a result, remote hearings were only reported from

the Basic Court Kavadarci and ended with the termination of the state of emergency there, which ended also the legal basis for  remote hearings . In Greece, by contrast, there was no regulatory framework allowing for remote hearings; only the remote deliberation of cases among judges of, for example, three-judge panels were enabled during the partial suspension of court sessions (13 March to 6 May 2020), whereas all trials were postponed to a later date.108 While more detailed guidance on fair trial safeguards, including in the context of videoconferencing, may be added to this publication later, this section seeks to identify some of the key  issues for judges and courts to consider.

D.   COURTS  DURING THE PANDEMIC

Courts used different methods and tools during lockdowns to determine what matters  were  urgent  and  could  not  be postponed . In addition , technological solutions were employed , often very quickly , to  manage  cases . The  impact  of  the pandemic on other professionals who engage with the court , including lawyers , probation officers and translators , among others , has also required consideration .

1.        Defining  Urgent Cases

In light of the partial or full closure of courts in many countries during the height of the pandemic, the capacity of courts to process cases was reduced, prompting the question of which cases to suspend, which ones to continue and which ones to prioritize as urgent, sometimes referred to as the “triaging of cases”. Defining what is urgent varied from State to State and across different types of courts ; however, certain commonalities could also be found.

As noted above, some general guidance on the determination of urgency in the form of laws, regulations or recommendations is beneficial to avoid arbitrariness and ensure fairness, transparency and consistency, if at the same time balanced with flexibility to decide on a case- by-case basis. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and some other organizations have provided helpful principles to assist in the determination of urgency.

Key criteria should include, first and foremost, the requirements of international law and the need to prevent irreparable harm.

Accordingly, urgent cases should include matters related to the violation of rights, to which remedial action would likely be ineffective upon delay. This is probable where individuals with specific vulnerabilities are at risk of physical or mental harm or neglect. It has been widely reported, for example, that women found themselves at an elevated risk of domestic violence during lockdown situations. Children, older persons and persons with disabilities were also more vulnerable to violence and neglect at times of emergency.

Any criteria for the suspension versus continuation of procedures, and for their prioritization should be subject to prior consultation with all legal professions, including judges and lawyers and their respective associations. They should be objective, fair, clear and transparent and should not undermine judicial independence or be discriminatory.

In light of human rights obligations, the consideration of cases of individuals deprived of their liberty also needs to feature on the list of priority cases, in particular persons after arrest and in pre-trial detention due to their fundamental right to be brought before a judge. Those who have been held on remand longer than they would have been without the pandemic should also be considered as urgent, bearing in mind the obligation of States and authorities to keep pre- trial detention as short as possible and the need to reduce

(or at least not add to) the numbers in detention . Indeed the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)  has  called  on  States in the context of the pandemic to “ review all cases  of  pretrial detention in order to determine whether it is strictly necessary  in  the  light  of  the  prevailing   public   health emergency and to extend the use of bail for all  but  the  most serious of cases ” .

Other procedures dealing with potentially unjustified detention should also be considered  a  priority , not  least  in  light  of  the risk of infection in usually cramped conditions in prison .

OHCHR and WHO have emphasized that persons deprived of  their liberty face greater  vulnerabilities  as  the  spread  of  the virus  can  expand  rapidly  due  to  the   usually   high concentration of persons deprived of their liberty in confined spaces  and  to  the  restricted  access  to   hygiene   and   health care in some contexts . Indeed , the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called  on  states  to  review “ existing  cases of deprivation of liberty in all detention settings  to  determine whether the detention is still  justified  as  necessary  and proportionate in the prevailing context of the COVID-19 pandemic . ”

2.         Who          determines                     urgency ?

Who decides which  cases  are  urgent  varied  from  jurisdiction  to jurisdiction . In some States , individual judges have determined  what  is  urgent  on  a  case-by-case   basis , such   as in Albania , with very general  or  no  guidance  from ,  for  example , judicial councils . In Slovenia , on the  other  hand , a  list of urgent cases was  defined  by  law . In  Greece , “ urgent cases ” to be handled by courts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic were explicitly defined by law .

A  two-pronged approach , with  decisions  taken  on  a  case-by- case basis by individual judges but based on general guidance and/or recommendations from judicial councils seems to be a sensible compromise . Regulation or recommendations regarding criteria to be  considered  are  beneficial  to  avoid  arbitrariness  and ensure  fairness,  transparency  and  consistency .  At  the same  time  ,  a  case-by-case  approach  is  in   keeping   with judicial independence and is required  to  assess  the  criteria  in  any  given  case . Courts  also  need  to  retain  considerable flexibility to adapt to the (often swift) changing nature of the pandemic and responses to  it . In  addition , the “ organ ” that  takes  decisions  on  urgency  needs  to   be   determined   in advance, to prevent any tampering and inconsistency .

3.        Knock-on  impact  of external pressures  on the courts

Of  course , courts  do  not  operate   in   isolation . Consequently , the impact of the pandemic on  other  actors  outside  of  the judiciary has also influenced the operation of courts . Probation services and community sentences have been suspended or significantly limited in most States during lockdown and when emerging  from  the  pandemic . As  the   Confederation   of European Probation  noted , the  pandemic  resulted  in , for  example , reduced  availability  of   staff , reduction   or  suspension of in-person meetings , and suspension or alternative delivery of community service  sentences  and  treatment  programmes . This has likely  impacted , and  may  continue  to  impact , the courts imposition of community orders . There is also some concern that reduction in the availability of probation  services  may  ultimately  result  in  lengthier  sentences  where  offenders will need more time to complete required activities .

Furloughing , closure of offices and redundancies have been experienced by various professions , including translators , interpreters  and  notaries . The  organization  Fair  Trials  noted  that , as a  result  of  severe  restrictions  of  solicitors  access  to  their clients , suspects in police  custody  were  receiving  poor quality advice . Lawyers offices  have  also  been  affected  by  closures  or  reduction  in  staff  numbers , impacting   access   to legal assistance and advice . Some lawyers have attempted to address  these  challenges  in  innovative   ways . In   Kyrgyzstan , free legal aid was provided by phone , social media and email .

Little information is available to date about the  accessibility  of  legal  aid  during  the  pandemic  and  whether  it  has   been available , for example , in countering excessive emergency measures . In some  countries , such  as  Portugal , social  services are involved in the assessment of eligibility of legal aid (on financial grounds), which likely resulted  in  delays  in  decisions given the impact of the pandemic on staffing and workload of social services , and restrictions in accessing such services during lockdown . Such conditions  may  have  led  to delays  in  decisions  on  eligibility  for   legal  aid  and  the  expiry   of  appeal  deadlines , resulting  in  increased   self-representation or omission of the  appeal  altogether . A  review  of  the  accessibility and effectiveness of legal aid during and in the aftermath of the pandemic by States and courts is advisable .

4.      Recommendations

  • Clear   criteria  should   be  established , preferably  by  law , with  a  margin  of  discretion  for  judges , for  the  determination  of  an  “ urgent case ” .
  • The criteria should be objective , fair  and  clear  and  should  not undermine judicial independence or be discriminatory .
  • Criteria should be transparent and available to others for consultation , including members of the legal profession and their associations .
  • Courts should retain flexibility to adapt to the pandemic . A case-by-case approach in determining what is urgent may be appropriate as a way of ensuring judicial discretion and independence .
  • Guidance by law , regulation or recommendations can avoid arbitrariness and  ensure  fairness , transparency  and consistency.
  • The body taking decisions on urgency needs to be determined in advance , to prevent any tampering or inconsistency .
  • Determining what is  urgent  should  take  into  consideration those cases where defendants are in (pre-trial) detention , cases where immediate protection is required by women or other vulnerable groups from (domestic) violence (in particular during confinement in quarantine ), other urgent family disputes and  cases relating  to  violation  of  measures  concerning  COVID-19 that  imply  irreparable  harm . The  availability  of  certain  remedies is required by international human  rights  obligations  and cannot be suspended .
  • Those who have been held on remand longer than they  would have been without the pandemic should also be considered as urgent .
  • Other procedures dealing with potentially unjustified detention should also be  considered  a  priority , particularly  consider  the  risk of infection in usually cramped conditions in prison .
  • Determining what  is  urgent  should  be  a  judicial  decision , taken  without  prejudice  to  the merits of the case, and made simply and quickly . Any decisions should be communicated promptly to all stakeholders .
  • Courts need to consider the impact of the pandemic  on  other actors outside of the judiciary , including the legal profession , probation , notaries , interpreters , etc .
  • The accessibility and  effectiveness  of  legal  aid  during  and  in  the  aftermath  of  the  pandemic   by   States   and   courts   should be provided . There should be the possibility of submitting and reviewing applications for legal aid online .
  • CONCLUSION

The outbreak of this  pandemic  disease  i.e.  Covid-19  is influencing  litigation  in  numerous  manners  and   has additionally injured the courts  the  nation  over  as  judges , lawyers  and  litigants  are  attempting  to  accomplish  justice under the law while  adjusting  open  security . The  quick  spread  of this  infection  has  prompted  the  shutting  down  of  Courts  and Tribunals in the nation to maintain a strategic distance

i.e social distancing from human affiliation and to check the  spread of novel coronavirus in the nation . In  any  case , the Central Government and Judiciary has found a way to give alleviation to the individuals who  are  confronting  this  uncommon test . Despite the fact that  the  courts  have  been closed down , the Hon’ble  Supreme  Court  of  India  has  chosen  to take up urgent issues  by  means  of  virtual  procedures  with  the goal  that  the  advocates  and  litigants  don’t  need  to  show  up genuinely in the court in this current  circumstance . The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has additionally guided the separate  Bars  to  advance  virtual  procedures  and  e-filing . Indeed , even the Courts , taking cognizance of the difficulties

being  looked  by  the  lawyers  to  introduce  under  the  steady gaze of the Court truly for documenting of separate Appeals , Petitions , and  so  forth  and  has  expanded  the  time  of constraint  until  its  further  order , with  this , would  like   to battle against Coronavirus.

REFERENCES

.https://www.google.com/search?q=impact+of+covid+19+on+JUDICIAL++SYSTE

M&hl=en-GB&ei=CvvOYILDFavG4- EPj8atsAg&oq=impact+of+covid+19+on+JUDICIAL++SYSTEM&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd 2l6EAMyAggAOgcIABBHELADOgYIABAHEB46BAgAEA1QmCRYqjNg4zZoAnACeACA

AckCiAG_C5IBBTItNS4xmAEAoAEBqgEHZ3dzLXdpesgBCMABAQ&sclient=gws- wiz&ved=0ahUKEwiC8Mqw5KXxAhUr4zgGHQ9jC4YQ4dUDCA8&uact=5

. https://www.mondaq.com/india/operational-impacts-and- strategy/1068670/covid-19-and-the-revamping-of-the-indian-legal-system

. https://www.iacajournal.org/articles/10.36745/ijca.382/

. https://www.coe.int/en/web/cepej/impact-and-lessons-of-the-health-crisis- on-the-efficiency-of-justice-and-the-functioning-of-judicial-systems

. https://www.ibanet.org/article/F1A1E3A6-675F-455B-B190-038306399CBB

. https://e-justice.europa.eu/content_impact_of_covid19_on_the_justice_field-

37147-en.do

Author: AKSHAT  RAJ

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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