A woman's road to accessing justice was already precarious prior to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Across the world, an estimated 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 years were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months. A portion of these women form part of the 2.5 billion who are deprived of various forms of legal protections.
The crisis has brought the resilience of justice systems into sharp focus, with resources being diverted away from the justice sector towards more immediate public health measures. Institutions and services such as the courts, hotlines, crisis centres, legal aid clinics and social welfare services are being scaled back in many countries. Justice institutions have also been compelled to operate differently. Courts are prioritizing "exceptionally urgent" cases and placing restrictions on in-person appearances.
Adopted in 2006, the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct offer international standards for the ethical behaviour of judges, providing judiciaries worldwide with a set of agreed-upon core principles which help guide their work. Indeed, these six principles - independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, and competence and diligence - are considered central in efforts to build judiciaries which are free of corruption and which ultimately act for all members of society.
The French National School for the Judiciary ( École Nationale de la Magistrature - ENM) was created in 1958 to train both judges and public prosecutors. The School simultaneously trains three classes ("promotions") of about 350 students for 31 months.
Trainee judges and prosecutors from Promotion 2018 were taking their final exams before choosing their first positions, while students from Promotion 2019 were beginning a key step in their training in the form of a year-long judicial internship in one of the 173 French courts. As for the students of Promotion 2020 that had just entered the School in February 2020, they were about to begin a 9-month period of study at the School in Bordeaux.
For courts and judges, both information technology (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI) offer new opportunities, but they also entail major new challenges. The most important challenge is to the governing of judiciaries. Governance, the way decisions are taken and by whom, is mainly determined by two factors: judicial independence and case processing. Judiciaries are geared toward judicial independence. Although procedures vary from country to country, in most situations governance mechanisms will leave room for individual judges to decide their cases on the merits of the cases. Judiciaries process cases, so they are also mainly production organizations, as they work to process court cases as efficiently as possible. Both these elements reduce the opportunities for innovation. From this perspective, let's take a look at the new challenges IT and AI pose for courts and judiciaries.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have split the world even further apart, as the health crisis continues to put new pressures on daily life. And while for some, it has slowed down their output; for others, lockdown has generated a desire to do more.
Fields which have been affected by the pandemic include the judicial sectors around the world, with the postponement of trials and a slowing down of judicial processes. In Lebanon, the pandemic was exacerbated by the August 4 th explosion in Beirut, an event with catastrophic consequences on a human level and on the city's infrastructure. For Judge Jean Tannous, who suffered a personal tragedy in the explosion, this was nevertheless an occasion to insist even more on dedicating himself to his work, and to continue promoting judicial integrity.