Law under lockdown: the impact of COVID-19 measures on access to justice and vulnerable people
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique and unprecedented challenge for preserving people’s rights, and ultimately the rule of law. Policy decisions have needed to be made quickly to respond to a rapidly changing emergency situation and to protect public health and lives.
While quick decision making has been necessary, it means that the measures implemented have not been scrutinised as much as they usually would. Disproportionate impacts on vulnerable groups have emerged and solicitors have played an important role in supporting people facing difficult circumstances.
However, the measures used to tackle the pandemic have also changed how people access courts and lawyers. It has become more difficult to get legal advice and the protection of the court at the same time that rights have been reduced under emergency powers.
When exceptional emergency measures affecting fundamental rights and the most intimate areas of people’s lives are introduced, it’s essential to maintain access to justice to ensure those most at risk are protected.
Lessons must be learned from this period and put into practice as we continue to tackle COVID-19 and when shaping responses to future emergencies.
The government’s six-month review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 is a vital opportunity to ensure the measures in place reflect the current situation, address adverse impacts and protect access to justice.
Some important areas we identify for the review to consider are:
- adapting or removing measures to reflect the current situation
- protecting access to justice and legal advice for those most at risk
- improving information, data collection and evaluation
Our analysis has been informed by:
- desk research parliamentary questions
- Freedom of Information requests
- correspondence and discussions with government and civil service officials
- input from our expert committees
- a focused survey of solicitors