This Discussion Paper assesses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to justice for vulnerable groups in Tunisia. The study shows that, while few legal needs were specific to the pandemic, the current crisis has increased an already-existing justice gap for many vulnerable categories of people. Victims of domestic and gender-based violence, alimony and divorce, as well as migrants, refugees and detainees have been particularly affected. The Discussion Paper maps a number of challenges, which, if addressed, could increase access to justice for vulnerable groups. An impressive sense of creativity was found among legal professionals to meet these obstacles and justice seekers’ needs. If Tunisian authorities capitalise on this creativity and build a comprehensive strategy on justice delivery, the COVID-19 crisis could even provide an opportunity to enhance and rethink access to justice in Tunisia.

The Discussion Paper builds on a series of in-depth interviews with lawyers, judges and prosecutors in Tunisia, jointly conducted by ILAC and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative. It was made possible by core funding provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Key recommendations:

  • When moving trials and hearings to remote mechanisms, hearings which do not impact liberty or bodily integrity should be prioritised.
  • Conduct training among police officers on Law 2017-58 on gender-based violence. Efforts should be particularly intensified towards the officers working in the specialised units that receive gender-based violence claims.
  • Ensure prioritisation of alimony and divorce cases, even during pandemics and other emergency situations.
  • Make the process of appointing legal aid more efficient; the appointment mechanism must be faster, while the dissemination of information on the provision of legal aid should be improved.
  • Provide methods for lawyers to meet privately with their clients in detention without risk of infection – for example, in a private room with a plastic barrier or through an unmonitored phone call in a private room.