COVID-19 CRISIS: Implications for Access to Justice

Incidents of high-handedness are already being reported from different corners of the country. As time passes, maybe apathy and indifference to sufferings will also surface. Maybe we will write in social media and forget. Today we can perhaps afford it. But there will be a time, when we will have to face this. These are early days, but we need to be prepared for the long haul. Today, we may be lulled into complacency, saying it is a war against the virus. I argue that we need not. Even wartime needs justice mechanisms in place and working. Every war manual and martial law has a semblance of justicing mechanisms. Therefore, we will have to provide access to justice to people aggrieved. This is important for two reasons, at the very least. One, it helps contain social discontentment as it opens up pent up grievances and restricts it from getting misdirected. Two, it helps recalibrate the response of the administration and the errant public by enforcing accountability. It is required for the proper functioning of the emergency administration itself. Institutions of justice cannot be kept in suspended animation, as they are today. Today, there is no remedy for the usual wrongs.
What is our response? Ironically, justice institutions were the first to suspend operations and are silent spectators to the citizen’s plight in this lockdown. This, when a totally contactless delivery of legal services is possible with the help of technology. We have the building blocks already. While I stand resolutely behind the government on the steps being taken today, to keep the pandemic at bay, we have to prepare for a situation when this prolongs and even for the future when such disruptions occur due to reasons like biological warfare. This is a time when we should come together and attempt to repurpose ourselves to deliver contactless legal services. This will have far reaching impact on access to justice in peacetime. Let us come together and spend 2 hours every day. Let us begin with brainstorming. Will be great to receive some responses.

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