Impacts of COVID-19 on Justice Systems


This preliminary investigation of the emerging impacts of COVID-19 on justice systems throughout the world was jointly conducted by a research team of the Global Access to Justice Project, operating under the coordination of Alan Paterson, Anna Barlow, Bryant Garth, Cleber Alves, Diogo Esteves, Earl Johnson Jr., Kim Economides and Peter Biggelaar. It was conducted over three weeks between 7 and 27 April, 2020.

Data analysis was performed by Franklyn Roger Alves Silva, Júlio Camargo de Azevedo and the survey coordinators.

We wish to thank the following Global Access to Justice Project researchers who provided invaluable support throughout the development of the survey: Ab Currie (Canada); Alan W. Houseman (USA); Ali Baqar Najafi (Pakistan); Andras Kadar (Hungary); Andrea Catalina León Amaya (Colombia); Andrea Manoli (Cyprus); Andrew Field (Ireland); Ángel Torres Machuca (Ecuador); Anita Kalanderi (Kosovo);  Anželika Banevičienė (Lithuania); Basir Nosirov (Tajikistan); Bettina Lemann Kristiansen (Denmark); Bridgette Toy-Cronin (New Zealand); Carlos Manuel Gonçalves de Melo Marinho (Portugal); Charles Dinda (Zambia); Christina Kamili Ruhinda (Tanzania); Dara Khlok (Cambodia); Dave Holness (South Africa); Donald Paterson (Vanuatu); Edknowledge Mandikwaza (Zimbabwe); Elisabetta Silvestri (Italy); Eugene Tan (Singapore); Fathmath Yasmeen Shamaal (Maldives); Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles (Sierra Leone); Federico Alessandro Goria (Italy); Franklyn Roger Alves Silva (Brazil); Gerald Kamonera (Zimbabwe); Goce Kocevski (North Macedonia); Gulnaz Shaikhina (Kazakhstan); Herman Schilperoort (Netherlands); Hongyao Wu (China); Irakli Shonia (Georgia); Ivanka Ivanova (Bulgaria); Jargalsaikhan Khunan (Mongolia); Jan Winczorek (Poland); Joelle Barnes (Seychelles); Josefina Pavon Duron (Honduras); Juan Mendoza Díaz (Cuba); Julen Fernández Conte (Spain); Júlio Camargo de Azevedo (Brazil); Karol Limondin (Zambia); Kennedy Kariseb (Namibia); Kennedy Kimani (Kenya); Kokebe Wolde Jemaneh (Ethiopia); Livia Giuliani (Italy); María Guillén Molina (Spain); Masauko Edwin Chamkakala (Malawi); Mirel Legrá Fleitas (Cuba); Nancy Baraza (Kenya); Neelu Mehra (India); Nir Bahadur Pakhren (Nepal); Pascal Mukanya Mufuta (Democratic Republic of Congo); Sharon Hofisi (Zimbabwe); Simon Rice (Australia); Sofia Libedinsky (Chile); Stéphanie Laulhé Shaelou (Cyprus); Steven Gibens (Belgium); Susanne Peters (Netherlands); Tomoki Ikenaga (Japan); Yaira Obstbaum (Finland); Yseult Marique (France); and Yu-Shan Chang (Taiwan).

The Global Access to Justice Project also wishes to acknowledge the cooperation of the following organisations: the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR); Legal Aid Board – Ireland; Legal Aid Board – Netherlands; Fluminense Federal University (UFF); Heal Zimbabwe; Hungarian Helsinki Committee; International Legal Aid Group (ILAG); Macedonian Young Lawyers Association; Maldives Law Institute; Permanent Office of the Consejo General de la Abogacía Española; Public Defender’s Office of Ecuador; and Public Defender’s Office of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – Brazil.


The COVID-19 pandemic took all nations on the planet by surprise and continues to drive a quest for efficient and effective mechanisms to contain the spread of this highly contagious virus.

In addition to initiating a humanitarian crisis, the outbreak is triggering multiple impacts (social, political, economic, environmental etc.) on the global stage, whose consequences – both negative and positive – were not only unforeseen, but remain unpredictable, although we can be sure they will inevitably touch, one way or another, our justice and legal aid systems.

While the pandemic advances and envelops us all, from those living in developed countries to those in low income nations, human rights violations are being committed under the pretext of curtailing the threat of COVID-19. Serious doubts are arising about each country’s capacity to maintain the rule of law during the pandemic and prevent arbitrary infringement of civil liberties, whether by private individuals, organizations or governmental authorities.

Mandatory social isolation measures have in some instances motivated justice systems and legal aid agencies to invest in the use of technology to avoid face-to-face contact. However, limited resources and improvised solutions have also undermined the capacity to maintain normal levels of access to justice during the outbreak. The current uncertainty that undermines the stability of justice systems and legal aid agencies is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and the economic crisis triggered by mandatory social isolation measures has already in some countries raised the prospect of cuts to legal aid funding.

Although many questions remain unanswered, it is clear we are facing an historic milestone, and cannot afford to ignore the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a view to assessing its current impact on justice and legal aid systems, the Global Access to Justice Project collected quantitative and qualitative data from 51 countries during April 2020.

Given that the pandemic is ongoing, the survey has had to deal with a moving scenario in which the situation in each country is constantly changing. Notwithstanding this highly dynamic, unpredictable and unstable global context, our preliminary survey results attempt to provide a reasonably accurate and up-to-date snapshot of the access to justice movement at this particular moment in the dramatic COVID-19 pandemic.


In order to obtain the very latest information on the ambivalent impacts of COVID-19 on a sample of the world’s justice and legal aid systems the Global Access to Justice Project circulated, between 7 and 27 April 2020, a specially designed questionnaire to project researchers located around the world.

National experts responded very quickly and provided both quantitative and qualitative data from the following 51 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Lithuania, Malawi, Maldives, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, United States, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The responses received are the professional opinion of each researcher.

The questionnaire has provided a common framework, ensuring a broadly consistent approach to data collection which should facilitate the comparative analysis of research findings both now and over time.

It is important to emphasise that the situation in each of the countries analyzed remains very fluid and unstable, and has been subject to constant change since the outbreak of the pandemic. This inevitably impacts on these interim findings reported in this study which we stress can offer only a transient and fleeting analysis of how justice and legal aid systems are responding at this precise historical moment.

Overview of COVID-19 Impacts

Special measures taken to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups