IBJ’s country offices worldwide are on the frontlines of access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has been a source of significant programmatic incubation, and IBJ has been partnering with ministries, courts, prisons and defenders all over the world to create new solutions for access to justice in this rapidly changing environment.
Select country reports relevant to the pandemic are provided below.
- Burundi Bridges to Justice (BBJ) continue to undertake weekly police cell visits to take on new cases with COVID-19 prevention kits supplied to all lawyers and distancing measures implemented.
- Following a meeting with the Director General of Prisoner Affairs, BBJ drafted a statement with measures to increase protection of detainees from COVID-19 and submitted it to the Minister of Justice.
- BBJ Country Manager Jean-Claude Barakamfitiye discussed with the Director General (DG) of Prison Affairs measures to protect detainees from COVID-19, including the release of those in prison for minor infractions, elderly prisoners, and juvenile delinquints. They also discussed reinforcing hygiene measures. The DG welcomed BBJ suggestions and recommended guidelines.
- Staff are utilizing existing online communications platforms to conduct strategy meetings among criminal defenders on how to overcome justice challenges posed by the pandemic.
- DR Congo Bridges to Justice (DRCBJ) translated IBJ suggested access to justice guidelines into the local language of Swahili and presented them to the relevant authorities.
- DRCBJ drafted and presented a letter to relevant authorities requesting that prisoners held in pre-trial detention with cases under deliberation are granted temporary release until court sessions are resumed. DRCBJ is also advocating that courts: 1) allow special hearings for provisional release requests and 2) reduce bail fees to decrease prison overcrowding.
- On April 18, IBJ India Country Manager, Ajay Verma, convened an online seminar for 800+ lawyers to advise them on bail applications under the new laws regulating COVID-19 in prisons.
- On March 31, Ajay Verma, IBJ’s Country Manager was interviewed on his legal consortium application to the Supreme Court on safe transit for prisoners https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/news/provide-safe-transit-along-facilities-released-prisoners-application-supreme-court-94141
- On March 26, the Huffington Post interviewed IBJ Country Manager, Ajay Verma, on how the government should tackle COVID-19 in prisons. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/coronavirus-india-prisons_in_5e7c4c82c5b6cb9dc19a6b2c?guccounter=1
- On March 25, the Delhi government informed the court they would release pre-trial prisoners on interim bail on April 10. This decision followed a petition by IBJ-affiliated lawyer Shobha Gupta for the release prisoners in Delhi, as well as Public Interest Litigation drafted with the help of Ajay Verma
- Following advocacy efforts by Ajay Verma, on March 23, the Supreme Court took a suo moto cognizance for the release of prisoners both convicted and under trial so as to prevent the outbreak of corona virus among prisoners and to decongest the prisons. The Apex Court ordered the creation of committees to screen lists of potential prisoners for early release.
- On March 23, the Hindustan Times recognized advocacy efforts by Ajay Verma in an article on the need to amend parole provisions in order to decongest Delhi’s overcrowded prisons. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-prison-rules-to-be-amended/story-aMKPC5EdahyvtX1p9GOG1L.html
- On March 16, IBJ Country Manager drafted suggested guidelines for protecting prisoners under pandemic. These were referred to in a case heard at the Supreme Court.
- IBJ is a catalysing member of a coalition of legal aid providers that petitioned government leaders to limit arrests, reduce detention populations, and maintain core court functions in the face of the pandemic.
- After the coalition’s petition, the President issued ordered an amnesty release of up to 25% of all sentenced prisoners in an effort reduce prison overcrowding during the pandemic.
- Senior Lawyers at IBJ’s five Justice Centres are implementing a duty lawyer schedule to provide advice and emergency representation on violations of health regulations and quarantine procedures. Contact information is being disseminated on signs at the Justice Centres, on social media, and through communications with government justice actors and local legal and civil society partners.
- Along with the Rwandan Bar Association, lawyers from Rwanda Bridges to Justice (RBJ) are the only lawyers nationwide permitted entry into detention facilities. Since lockdown, RBJ conducts visits to detention facilities three times a week.
- The newspaper, Umuseke, interviewed RBJ Country Manager John Bosco-Bugingo on the situation for prisoners under the pandemic.
- On April 14, RBJ lawyers went live online representing seven cases in the new online criminal justice system that began April 9.
- As of April, IBJ efforts have been successful in releasing over 2,900 prisoners on police bail amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
- IBJ and lawyers nationwide drafted bail guidelines for prisoners, which were accepted by the Attorney-General’s Department, with 8,000 remand prisoners now eligible for release.
- On April 7, IBJ convened an online response meeting with lawyers from across the country, including the cities of Colombo, Jaffna, Kandy, Mannar, and Trincomalee to discuss the ramifications of the COVID-19 curfews .
IBJ lawyers continue to visit prisons and file bail applications for new offences and curfew violators.
- The Minister of Justice at the Syrian Interim Government and IBJ lawyers are forming a task force to prevent human rights violations by keeping police stations and prisons in check and to find solutions to overcrowded prisons during the pandemic via increased bail and parole application.
- A 24/7 preparedness plan has been established, with IBJ lawyers working in shifts to bail as many people as possible and coordinate with other CSOs on COVID-19 response.
- On April 23, IBJ Syria held an online roundtable event to discuss the justice system’s response to COVID-19 and the role of lawyers therein.
- IBJ lawyers visited courts in Jandairis, Afrin, Raii, and Jarablus to meet judges to request shorter court proceedings and more bail applications in an effort to decongest prisons and detention centers.
- IBJ has launched an initiative in collaboration with Aleppo University’s faculties of medicine and pharmacy, and is sending field teams to IDP camps to raise awareness onCOVID-19 prevention, social distancing, and quarantining.
- IBJ lawyers convened with the court of cassation and with the prosecution to request:
- Shorter court proceedings
- Mitigated sentences for major offenses
- The release of prisoners with minor offenses; and
- The release of juvenile delinquents, female prisoners, and chronically ill prisoners.