An “alarm bell” for justice in Europe, paralysed by COVID-19 restrictions, has been sounded by the CCBE, the organisation for European Bars & Law Societies.
In a statement today reflecting its concern over the number of cases cancelled or postponed to the detriment of access to justice and respect of human rights, the CCBE urges the European institutions and all member states:
- to facilitate the complete reactivation of justice systems in Europe, while promoting health and safety measures;
- to invest urgently in justice and legal aid; and
- to provide support to lawyers to ensure the defence of fundamental rights and freedoms and to promote access to justice.
As specific actions to support these aims, the CCBE wants states to “reactivate” the judiciary immediately in phase I of every deconfinement strategy, to the greatest extent possible, to allow citizens and entities to regain full access to justice and to legal certainty; to ensure safe and healthy access to justice, including access of defence lawyers to prisons, with investment in IT development in court case management; and specific financial support as well as tax relief measures for lawyers and law firms.
“In particular, sole practitioners and small and medium sized law firms, who often are the first point of contact with justice and rights defence, have suffered dramatically from the confinement and coronavirus crisis, due to the lack of new cases and late or non-payment of invoices by clients, themselves adversely economically impacted”, the CCBE states.
Its initial soundings suggest that across Europe, about 25% of lawyers have been significantly adversely affected.
“Justice must be accessible to all at any time. Any person, including the most vulnerable, must have access to legal advice and be able to seek justice within reasonable time if needed. This sanitary crisis cannot go to the detriment of people’s fundamental rights”, said Ranko Pelicarić, President of the CCBE.
Through its member bars and law societies in 45 European countries, the CCBE represents more than 1 million European lawyers.