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Delivering Justice in the
Covid-19 Crisis

We invite you to explore views of thought leaders for your country

Surge of injustice expected Targeted response required to guarantee peace and justice

Thought leaders in the justice sector are concerned about a looming wave of legal problems. They expect incidents of injustice to surge. This may lead to civil unrest in some countries. Business as usual – by courts and police enforcing laws, with legal services available for the few – is unlikely to work. Thought leaders offered clear indications on how courts, ministers of justice and politicians should respond to safely and effectively deliver justice.

The inability to respond in a timely and effective manner to concerns by average citizens will further entrench the perception that the justice system favors the wealthy and the well connected.

Data are needed to guide the response

We invite you to explore views of thought leaders for your country

As a first step, we asked thought leaders in the countries where we work about their views on the impact of Covid-19 on the delivery of justice. Two-hundred and seventy one leaders from more than 20 countries engaged in this dialogue via an online questionnaire.

The respondents have significant experience. Sixty-eight percent have more than 10 years of professional experience and 18% more than 6 years. Twenty-six percent are lawyers, 19% work for NGOs, 13% are judges or prosecutors, 9% are academics and 8% are justice innovators.

The interactive charts below allow you to explore the detailed views of these leaders, country by country.


Immediate response

We first asked what justice institutions did to adapt to the Covid-19 challenge. In many countries, justice institutions were closed (May 2020). Video-conferencing solutions were widely implemented and rules of procedure were changed through emergency laws.

Currently most justice systems are only applying technology to the same inaccessible systems instead of rethinking the entire justice delivery model. Part of the problem is the very rigid regulation that governs justice systems.

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Expected justice problems and impact

Justice needs research carried out before the pandemic shows that the five most prevalent categories of justice problems are land, family, crime, employment and neighbour disputes.

Increase in number of conflicts and disputes

The thought leaders expect a surge in disputes that are directly related to the global economic depression, including business problems, debt, and employment disputes. They also anticipate that the economic crisis and the public health measures will put intense pressure on families and communities, leading to a significant increase in family disputes and domestic violence. Other disputes, including (access to) welfare, health bills and insurance, tax, and housing issues are also expected to increase worldwide. 

The vulnerable will be hit hardest by the crisis. Interventions to increase access to justice should be targeted to address the needs of this group.

Regarding the effect of the pandemic on crime, variation across regions is very significant.

A small increase or even a slight decrease is expected in Europe and other high and middle income nations.

A sharp increase in crime is expected in low and lower-middle income countries (particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa).

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Individual thought leaders also pointed to:

  • Challenges faced by the poor, women & children and people with mental health issues exacerbated by debt caused by the Covid-19 measures
  • Unlawful dismissals and non-payment of wages
  • Serious crimes in military zones
  • Severe economic (inflation) crisis in Lebanon and Syria. Inflation and high costs will lead to an increase of crime
  • Improper/violent enforcement of Covid-19 measures.

The major risk I envisage is that there will be higher imbalance between the justice demands of the society and the ability of justice institutions to respond to such demand.

SMEs will likely encounter more legal problems as well

Bankruptcies, debt disputes, disputes with employees and disputes with suppliers are expected. 

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There is already a body of knowledge about the distribution of legal problems. From the HiiL dataset of justice needs from about 20 countries we know that of the most serious legal problems:

  • 10% are employment disputes
  • 9% are family disputes
  • 7% are debt disputes and
  • 3% are domestic violence.

We also know that around 53% of the 5.5 billion adult people in this world report one or more legal problems every 4 years.

From here we see that roughly there are around 1 billion serious legal problems each year. The justice leaders said that employment, family, debt and domestic violence problems will increase significantly. We will use anticipation in two scenarios – increase of problems with 10% and 25%. The table below predicts the additional global demand for justice caused by the pandemic. Note that the figures are based on several assumptions and should be considered with care.
Scenario 1:
10% increase per 1 million
Scenario 2:
25% increase per 1 million
Domestic Violence

Impact on individuals and societies is substantial; eruptions of violence possible

Covid-19 related problems will cause loss of jobs and income; in countries with a large informal job market or weak employment protection legislation, this has already happened.
Closures of businesses, stress-related illness, and damage to family relationships are already impacting people’s lives as well.

In the MENA region and in Sub-Saharan Africa more than 60% of respondents expect violence as a consequence of the new wave of justice problems.

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Expected outcomes: A widening justice gap

I am concerned that the administration of justice is not proactive enough to deal adequately with swift changes. The courts have been behind for 8 weeks. Compare that to the fast switch in education to online teaching

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  • Respondents are not optimistic about how this surge of additional justice problems will be resolved
  • 70% expect problems to escalate more often
  • Problems are expected to be resolved more often between the parties
  • Solutions are expected to be less fair and achieved less quickly. A large increase in the number of disputes, together with Covid-19-induced inefficiencies, will result in significant additional delays, particularly among low and middle income countries. In sum, the justice gap will widen.

A number of thought leaders reacted emotionally or expressed strong concern:

Increased court dockets act as access to justice barriers.
[Delivery of justice] depends on who is on the other side.
Courts not accommodating urgent cases (i.e. illegal evictions; domestic violence).


Views on remedies needed

More informal and early intervention is expected to help

  • Justice leaders see preventive measures and informal interventions including legal information and advice, assisted negotiation, and mediation as most effective for helping people prevent and resolve the current wave of legal problems.
  • The majority of justice leaders across income levels felt that supply of these interventions should be increased.
    More formal interventions typically offered by the courts (“sanctions”) were broadly believed to be slightly less effective in the COVID-19 climate.
  • This may be due in part to the fact that many formal justice institutions that would normally be responsible for adjudication and sanctioning are closed or operating at very limited capacity.

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A detailed pattern of interventions is believed to deliver peace and justice

When we asked about interventions in detail, we see considerable doubt among justice leaders across regions and income levels about the need for punitive interventions at this time.

More constructive and informal interventions such as respecting, shaping solutions, and restoring were seen as more important for addressing people’s present problems. Two thirds of those surveyed also placed a high value on monitoring outcomes (“improving”). This suggests that in a time of significant uncertainty and change, ensuring the quality and sustainability of interventions that prevent and resolve is a top priority for many leaders in the justice sector.

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Views on service delivery models

[I expect] to learn what works/doesn't work in terms of online collaboration and developing new and improved (informal & digital) procedures.

Community justice courts or services will be in high demand

  • Fast court procedures and legal services by lawyers continue to be valued.
  • But there is even more interest in prioritising community justice and other less conventional service delivery models such as legal apps, online one-stop-shops and community policing.
  • This may be because the local and/or online features of these models make them accessible to greater numbers of people during a time of lockdowns and social distancing.
  • The lack of support for zero-tolerance policies may be linked to increasingly overcrowded prisons, which have proven to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks.

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Lean away from the formal system and increase reliance on community-led justice strategies.

  • Justice leaders from low income countries see apps that prevent violence and fraud as a top priority, while their higher income counterparts consider them relatively unimportant.
  • This may be because protecting people from violence is of greater concern in low income countries.
  • Support for fast courts with adversarial procedures increases with income level. In lower level income countries video-conferencing is not expected to work, and courts may be less accessible anyhow.

Views on system change needed

Views on system change needed

In a recent report, the Task Force on Justice recommended a set of priorities for justice leaders to respond to Covid-19 related challenges.
We asked thought leaders to choose from these priorities.
The resulting ranking varies by region, income level and country but we see that the key elements are:

  • Protecting the justice workforce
  • Increasing innovation and smart working
  • Enforcing emergency measures fairly

[The priority is to] create new procedures that play a more positive role in resolving legal problems.” “Innovative justice delivery through out-of-the-box thinking.” "The challenge is to create a system that balances good service with protection. It means rethinking spaces, procedures and ways of working.

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Thought leaders worldwide identify the need to increase innovation and smart working, as the most important strategy to deal with challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the justice sector.

The challenge is how to adapt, how do we give people what they need in an economy like ours. This leads to the opportunity to finally move legal practice into the digital age, but how do we balance this with the truth that most of our population in the rural areas don't have smart phones and computers. Many are elderly and bent over walking sticks trying to fight for their right to a piece of land they desperately know to be theirs. Maybe by implementing technology where possible it will allow for less backlog of cases so that nobody has to go through this at such an age.

In lower income countries, where law and order institutions are assumed to be weaker, the justice leaders identify the need to protect people from violence as an equally important priority.

In Latin America, where income inequality is among the highest in the world, justice leaders identify the need to enforce emergency measures fairly, as the top priority.

In Europe, where safety concerns are lower than in other regions, and justice services are more equally accessible across segments of the population, the needs to protect the justice workforce, and to prepare for future disease containment phases, are signaled as relatively more important than in other parts of the world.

Other priorities mentioned include:

  • Easily accessible information online
  • Accessible procedures for Covid-19 specific problems
    Access to more affordable or free legal services
  • Prevention of problems through preventive rules and ADR
  • Focus on vulnerable groups such as women, youth, disabled people, poor and sex workers
    Promotion of social cohesion.

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The Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions are a challenge but also an opportunity. It is time when:

The value of justice and the justice system can be demonstrated.

Support the justice workers by way of motivation and necessary tools to be able to support people to get justice.

Technologies such as video-conferencing, e-filing, digital identity etc. can be accepted faster. However, this can lead to divides between digitally literate and not literate people.

Thought leaders recommend flexible regulation of procedures to enable innovation

  • In low and lower-middle income countries, thought leaders consider a legal framework that allows for technological and procedural adaptation in the courts a top priority for enabling the justice system to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • There is also significant interest in developing and implementing innovative justice delivery models and services.
  • Without courts to deliver justice as usual, new ways of meeting people’s justice needs at scale are recognised as sorely needed.

Financial models and structural reforms are also mentioned as priorities

In higher income countries, new and more sustainable financial models are a priority. There is less sense of urgency around more ambitious and structural reforms, such as rethinking roles and responsibilities between justice sector organisations and public/private cooperation in relation to investment. Thought leaders across income levels seem to consider practical adaptations of the justice system more important than creative realignments of relationships and responsibilities in the sector at this time.

Views on capabilities of justice leaders to cope with challenges

Satisfaction with response until now is not high

31% of the thought leaders are (very) satisfied with the justice sector’s response to the crisis.. 45% are (very) dissatisfied, and a quarter are neither satisfied or dissatisfied. In the Latin American region justice leaders’ perception of the system’s response to this crisis is slightly better than in other regions (close to half are satisfied and a third dissatisfied).

Justice leaders may need to invest in skills, relationships and coordination processes

Finally, we also asked whether the justice leaders in your country have the necessary skills, relationships and coordination processes to respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis.

13% strongly disagrees that they do and a further 36% disagrees.

Almost a quarter of respondents remain undecided about the capacity of their leaders.

It may be that the COVID-19 crisis has not been going on long enough for experts to make an assessment of the performance and capacity of their justice leaders.

Political leadership [is needed] to adapt existing institutions and processes to needs of people who want to resolve disputes quickly and effectively


Summary of findings and implications

Summary of findings and implications

Based on these opinions of thought leaders, the justice gap is expected to increase.

The impact of justice problems will be considerable, with large scale violence being a substantial risk in a number of countries.

Courts, police and other justice services will have to adapt their services, focusing on interventions that are most likely to resolve or prevent an additional wave of justice problems.

Just rendering decisions and imposing sanctions is unlikely to work.

The situation asks for a richer and more accessible portfolio of interventions, delivered locally, online or in communities.

Developing innovative service delivery models is seen as the main way forward.
In light of the sheer size of the challenges ahead, it is not surprising that justice leaders are thought to benefit from new skills, relationships and coordination processes.


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