This discussion paper assesses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to justice for vulnerable groups in Palestine. COVID-19 has had serious and extensive impacts on people’s access to justice in both the West Bank and Gaza. The severity of this situation is exacerbated by the Israeli occupation and systematic repression of and discrimination against Palestinians, the blockade of the Gaza strip, internal Palestinian division, a chronic shortage of electricity, and the shortage of specialised personnel, medicine and equipment.
The discussion paper provides insights into the increasing justice gap experienced by vulnerable groups during the pandemic in Palestine. It builds on a series of in-depth interviews with lawyers and judges in the West Bank and Gaza. Drawing on their experience, the discussion paper suggests recommendations to addressing this gap and use the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance access to justice for vulnerable groups.
- Form a judicial crisis management committee of experienced and independent figures to devise plans and strategies to manage crises, in particular considering vulnerable groups’ needs.
- Map the legal and practical conditions for digitalisation and make public a mapping report. This should include digital literacy/infrastructure, with consideration of due process, fair trial rights, the right to privacy and data security.
- Provide sufficient funding to ensure that domestic violence shelters never have to close, even during emergencies. Better resource protective measures attached to domestic violence cases, including for children.
- Prohibit, without exception, all marriages for individuals under 18 years of age.
- Ensure the full respect, protection and fulfilment of the right to counsel, regardless of the existence of a state of emergency.
- Defence lawyers are essential workers and they should be provided with an ID to allow them to travel when movement restrictions are implemented. Coordinate with law enforcement to ensure they respect lawyers’ right to move during these periods.
Author: Ylva L. Hartmann, Legal Advisor at ILAC.