Rule of law

Intervention and saving lives in health crises

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has again highlighted the close links between authorities’ responses to a health crisis, and the rule of law.

Lady justice holding scales and wearing blindfold

To control the spread of the virus, and to preserve health systems and human lives, governments around the world have limited individual freedoms.

They have taken measures ranging from collecting and processing private data, to general population confinement – including strict quarantine. Without pronouncing on their necessity or effectiveness, in respect of controlling the epidemic, these measures question the principle of the rule of law. Were they taken by competent authorities, in accordance with the procedures and conditions established by law, without giving rise to discrimination?

These were some of the questions considered and discussed by the panellists at the event The Rule of Law in Times of Health Crises: Protecting Rights and Saving Lives organised by A4ID on 16 September 2020.

Pandemic response

The international community must carefully monitor the implementation of emergency legislation adopted to tackle the COVID-19 crisis to prevent abuses of the rule of law and human rights. The lack of clear governance and international collaboration has shone a light on the many flaws of implementing legislation without proper due process.

In some jurisdictions, human rights violations and intimidation of lawyers and court officials have continued unabated through this crisis, which directly threatens the rule of law and access to justice. We now need to look for the learning opportunities from the pandemic to ensure we’re better prepared for protecting people and the rule of law in the future.

Domestic violence

Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted another pandemic within the viral pandemic with the number of domestic violence cases soaring.

UN Women has called this ‘the shadow pandemic’.

Stay-at-home orders, intended to protect the public and prevent widespread infection, left many domestic violence victims trapped with their abusers.

The increased number of domestic violence cases has reinforced important truths: that gender equality in society remains an aspiration for many women around the globe with 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence expected to emerge over the next 10 years as a result of COVID-19.

Our survey reported that domestic abuse cases doubled during the pandemic. The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reported a 33% increase in calls, whilst a UK domestic abuse hotline reported a 66% increase in cases.

Multiple crises

A panellist emphasised that “the pandemic is just one crisis, in a basket of multiple crises”. The climate crisis is a global priority, yet the pandemic has pushed it to the sidelines. 

Another panellist questioned the effectiveness of state governance in managing universal crises. It was evident that we need stronger parliamentary scrutiny in order to protect individuals’ rights and freedoms.

The approach of overprotecting economies instead of people has had dire physical, mental and social consequences. Evictions, unemployment and homelessness have all risen, disproportionately affecting marginalised communities, including low-income and migrant workers, who are facing greater risks.

The panel call for better, more collaborative policies, designed by international bodies such as the UN and World Health Organisation (WHO) and civil society organisations (CSOs) to provide trusted guidance and frameworks for governments in times of global crisis.

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