Ever since 1979, the Indian Supreme Court has accepted access to justice as a basic human right, a view propounded by legal scholars Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth. Towards achieving this goal, the Legal Services Authority Act was passed by parliament in 1987. As a result of this legislation, free legal aid and advice is available to all women, children, persons in custody, and other disadvantaged persons. Access to justice has been challenged by COVID-19 in an unimaginable way.
As the President of the Second High-Level Meeting of the Global Judicial Integrity Network and in my personal capacity, it pains me to see the whole world suffer under the terrible weight of this catastrophic COVID-19 virus. The images on television and in the newspapers show our world valiantly coping with the unknown. Doctors, nurses and health professionals in the world are teaching us all a lesson of sacrifice, solidarity and generosity. Let us be part of the world efforts in this fight for human life.
With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic, many countries have opted to implement either full scale or partial lockdowns in an effort to control the spread of the virus. The case of access to the Ugandan justice system is no different from the rest of the world, as even before the confirmation of any COVID-19 cases in the country, the general population was being advised to follow a number of recommended WHO safety precautions, which include self-isolation and social distancing. The above measures invariably affected the general day-to-day functioning of court activities.
Women bear a disproportionate brunt of health crises, environmental disasters and gender-based violence. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 global pandemic could follow this pattern-having devastating implications for women's access to justice. What are courts and governments doing to address these challenges? As the pandemic unfolds, heads of judiciaries are constantly weighing options in order to make the best decisions.
The terrible time we are living in with the coronavirus pandemic poses arduous challenges for those who work in the judicial system. The worldwide extent of the Covid-19 crisis has confronted us, again in our history, with the eternal fragility of humanity.
The International Association of Judges (IAJ) represents associations of 92 countries from five continents. The global dimension of our organization implies a particular obligation to reiterate the grave duties of judges in relation to this pandemic.