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Impact of COVID-19 on courts

Many countries have introduced sweeping measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including lockdowns, restrictions on social gatherings, and the closure of public facilities. These measures have had an unprecedented impact on criminal justice systems as courthouses in several countries have had to close and suspend their operations.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about court closures and court re-openings.

But even in the midst of a public health crisis, courts must be able to fulfil their essential activities and provide justice. These include dealing with urgent matters such as reviewing the lawfulness of arrests or continued detentions.  

As a result of court closures and reduced operations, proceedings have either been delayed or accelerated. In most countries, only what have been considered urgent cases have been dealt with. This has resulted in increasing backlogs of cases in many jurisdictions. In addition, people held in pre-trial detention have also seen their detention prolonged. This not only violates fundamental human rights, but it also contributes significantly to prison overcrowding.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about delayed or accelerated proceedings and extended pre-trial detentions.

Many countries have procedural laws which set strict deadlines on the various stages of criminal proceedings. In an effort to tackle the inevitable delays, there has been an increased use of remote justice tools such as video and audio conferencing. Fair Trials has produced a guide on safeguarding defendants’ rights during remote proceedings and has called for countries to conduct assessments of their impact, given the apparent interest in using videolinks more permanently.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about remote justice.

The reduced activity in courts and lockdown measures have impacted extradition processes and cross-border justice more broadly.

Read our updates and commentary pieces about cross-border justice.

Keep up to date

COVID-19 Justice Project Newsletter

Some activities in the following sections on this website are funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014-2020): Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides, Resources, Campaigns, Publications, News and Events. This content represents the views of the authors only and is their sole responsibility. It cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.