CLA News / Report on CLA’s developing activity during the Covid-19 pandemic


The Covid-19 pandemic is having impact in every aspect of the lives of Commonwealth citizens and CLA is working to contribute to the activity of Commonwealth nations and civil society partners in creating innovative solutions, raising awareness and working together to deliver what people and organisations need in the crisis and beyond.

The Rule of Law, access to Justice, the working of the courts and the organs of state and the role of the law in supporting democratic process are crucial to maintaining the wellbeing of our societies in difficult times
At the moment CLA activity is focussed in the following areas with further plans developing:

Emergency powers: there are concerns, widely raised, about the use and potential abuse of emergency powers. It is important that Governments are held to account for actions they might take in an emergency and that the measures they take to safeguard people need to be both proportional and appropriate. The balance needs to be struck between basic human rights and the need to protect citizens from the virus. The potential for Human Rights abuses and for the closing down of media freedoms are of great concern and highlighted in these difficult times.

Particularly focussing on emergency powers CLA issued a statement on 8th April  urging all Governments:

– To act proportionately;
– To act in a way which targets the current emergency and not for other purposes;
– To ensure that emergency powers are only valid for the time of the emergency; and
– To take into account, in all decision making relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, the necessity of abiding by, upholding and respecting the Rule of Law.

Networking and sharing experience: In collaboration with the Bar Council of England & Wales, CLA is putting together a series of recorded meetings and conversations in all our hubs to find out what each region is putting in place for the provision of access to justice and how courts and lawyers are managing. It is hoped that this sharing of experience and innovation will provide some support to the Commonwealth legal fraternity who are working on the delivery of justice.

The first of these was experimental and already published

A further meeting took place with representatives from Africa and the video of that conversation is included with is report. Others are in the pipeline for Asia, Canada, the Caribbean, Canada, the Pacific, Australia & New Zealand. The situation is moving quickly and many are already making use of technology to ensure the administration of Justice continues but there are points that should be raised and experiences shared in the enabling process. Particularly:

– The confidentiality of the proceedings – is the technology secure

– Just because it can be done – should it be? One of our attendees last week raised the point of children’s witness statements in family courts – the potential for off camera duress, for example

– There has been some feedback that lawyers and courts like the tech but other parties – clients, witnesses, not so much

– The appropriateness of dress and background in the legal process – awareness that the appropriate dignity of proceedings could be compromised

– This is not just court-based. Most lawyering is not done in court – contracts and transactions can be affected if the organs of state are not functioning – land registries, bankruptcy registers, probate registry etc.

And we ask the question: what more can be done to keep the wheels turning and what might be needed in the longer term to deal with possible backlog of cases and justice not having been available. As ever, the concern is for the most vulnerable.

Brigid Watson
CLA Secretary General
4th May 2020