This Discussion Paper assesses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to justice for vulnerable groups in Libya. The pandemic has added another layer of complexity to accessing and delivering justice in an already unstable and conflict-ridden context. Despite these difficult circumstances, the Libyan legal community has remained resourceful. It has managed to navigate in a fragmented judicial system and stay in contact with the most vulnerable, which requires both intelligence and courage.
The study shows that few legal needs have been specific to COVID-19. Yet, the pandemic has widened an already existing justice gap for many vulnerable categories of people. People who have been particularly affected include those subjected to domestic violence, those involved in alimony and divorce cases, people on the move – internally displaced people, migrants and refugees – and people in detention. By using lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, the study recommends first steps towards enhancing access to justice for vulnerable groups. This should be a task of top priority to the newly elected Government of National Unity.
The Discussion Paper builds on a series of in-depth interviews and a written survey directed at legal professionals in Libya, conducted by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative and the Public International Law and Policy Group. It was made possible by core funding provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Key recommendations to Libyan authorities:
Gender-based violence and women and girls’ rights:
- Improve women and girls’ access to justice and protection against gender-based violence:
- Update and adopt the draft legislation on gender-based violence, in consultation with national and international stakeholders, and ensure its due implementation.
- Amend Law 10 of 1984 to abolish child marriage and work holistically towards its factual abolishment.
- Spread information on rights upon divorce, such as entitlements to use the marital home, alimony, child support or custody rights.
- Improve vulnerable groups’ access to legal aid and assistance:
- Invest in the Department of People’s Legal Defence and work to expand the role of public lawyers.
- Encourage the Libyan Bar Association to provide legal aid and liaise with civil society legal aid initiatives.
- Inform the public, and in particular vulnerable groups, on the availability of legal aid.
- Develop the digitalisation of the justice system:
- Map legal and practical conditions for digitalisation, including digital literacy/infrastructure.
- Priority should be put on online access to case status, case updates and court decisions.
- Improved linkages and contact between the different courts and between courts and other governmental departments should also be prioritised.