2020’s cornerstone for justice
The outbreak of Covid-19 is affecting judicial systems in various ways, ranging from an increased use of virtual court hearings to general court closures, depending on the countries and institutions concerned. In this article presented in brief are some of the key measures that are being taken across the world, both in general and specifically in relation to legal proceedings. The challenges facing everyone involved in justice systems during this period are unexperienced in our modern history. As the authorities and institutions react, new measures are being put in place on a daily basis. In most countries General Measures have taken effect to control and stop the outbreak of the virus such as banning travels from and to particular territories, imposing lockdown during which people were only allowed to leave their homes for necessary activities (such as groceries shopping, pharmacies, banks or going to work).
However, the judicial system was no exception in relation to the immense impact that coronavirus has had. Courts have also taken measures to make sure their processes and operations remain intact during pandemic events. Here are some examples of the measures that different courts have taken to protect their on-going and future case proceedings.
How judicial institutions adapt their processes to new normal
· Both the ECJ and the General Court have partially closed. Both courts were hearing only urgent matters until further notice. All other cases already scheduled until 27th March at the ECJ and 3rd April at the General Court are postponed. The filing deadlines for all cases didn’t change.
· The building housing the courts was also closed and staff worked remotely.
· On 15th March, the Justice Minister said that only “essential” litigation will proceed. That included hearings for people in custody, urgent cases handled by judges for children and procedures related to the eviction of a violent partner.
· Germany’s Federal Administrative Court has cancelled hearings from 18th March to 19th April except for urgent matters that cannot be postponed. The building has been closed to the public, but the court continued to accept filings as usual.
· The Federal Court of Justice has not posted any formal announcements, but it has cancelled a hearing that was due between the aforementioned period.
· The Justice Minister suspended all court hearings until 22nd March with very limited exceptions. He recommended videoconferences or other remote hearings for urgent criminal matters. However, a recent research showed negative results related with people satisfaction with remote proceedings
· On 16th March, the judiciary announced that no courts would be closed unless required by health authorities. However, proceedings and procedural deadlines would be suspended to focus on providing essential services.
In comparison: The case of Iceland
In the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iceland rolled out an extensive strategy of testing, isolating, contact tracing, quarantining, and social distancing, which has helped the country avoid the most drastic rights restrictions.
Consequently, legal measures have not gone as far as placing curfews. However, Iceland has employed the following strategies to contain the virus: isolation, quarantine, limitations on group gatherings (first limited to less than 100, and later reduced to 20) and distancing requirements of 2 meters (with associated fines if violated). These measures have affected the autonomy of Iceland’s residents and severely impacted businesses.
Essential institutions, such as the Parliament and the Courts continued to run adapting their schedules and procedures in line with the measures. According to Icelandic County Court official website in 2019 a new case file system of the district courts has been put into use, replacing their older system which had served Icelandic courts since 1992.
Having established a remote connection between different court levels empowered the efficiency and optimized the court operations, e.g. starting send electronically complaints between courts.
Implemented by GoPro this new case file system initialized electronic procedures and more modern working methods in the judicial system. It was named AUÐUR, after the first woman judge in Iceland.
Due to Covid-19 outbreak the parliament processed an Emergency law for economic measures for companies and thanks to Case Management System that was in place all changes that have taken effect were quickly processed – rules and workflows are created within few days empowering affected companies and organizations to not stop operating.
Iceland also participated in temporary restrictions on non-essential travel to the Schengen Area, and enacted internal border control including 14-day quarantine upon arrival, both of which are currently set to be in place until 15 May 2020. Iceland expects to reopen to international arrivals by mid-June. While the details of the reopening are currently being finalized, the government has announced that it might entail testing and tracing measures for arriving passengers.
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