The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of COVID-19 an international health emergency. All countries have also taken action against the emergence and spread of the pandemic and the subsequent health emergency. Most countries have declared states of emergency and adopted restrictive measures for human movement, such as closing air, land and sea borders, as well as in some cases, compulsory social isolation.
With nearly 11 million people incarcerated at any given time across the globe, prison management and the treatment of prisoners are two essential areas within the criminal justice system. Critically, to ensure that imprisonment is used as an opportunity to correct rather than punish, prison administrations must be able to correctly classify prisoners - an important move which helps bolster their ability to rehabilitate and reduce reoffending.
Being able to correctly classify prisoners impacts an array of prison management aspects: it best determines the assessment of inmate risks; it improves the safety and security of prisoners, prison staff and the general public; it bolsters human rights-based custody; and, ultimately, it builds a more effective way of operating a prison system.
On 6 January 2020, Harvey Weinstein walked into a New York courtroom to face five charges of rape and sexual assault. Three years since the #MeToo movement began, more and more people are speaking out about harassment and abuse. The legal profession is at the forefront of this evolving movement, inherently tasked with determining the scope of the law as it relates to bullying and sexual harassment.
Yet the legal profession itself is not immune from these concerns. In May 2019, the International Bar Association (IBA) published its landmark report "Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession". The largest survey of its kind conducted by the legal profession, the report details the responses of almost 7,000 respondents from 135 countries.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is bringing to the forefront the weaknesses of criminal justice systems across the globe to ensure access to justice. Many states have resorted to closing courthouses and delaying proceedings as social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the virus. A key common feature of these measures is to keep defendants away from courthouses and even away from their lawyers. However, a defendant's right to be tried in person in an open court is a fundamental component of the right to a fair trial enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
As the COVID-19 crisis may lead to an erosion of trust in public services and governments, urgent questions should also be asked about how measures to prevent its spread can adversely affect the rule of law and human rights. UNESCO and UNODC stress the importance of education which teaches awareness of human rights and ultimately helps build more equal, sustainable and inclusive societies and economies that are more resilient in the face of crisis.