Tag: covid-19

Dealing with the Covid-19 crisis in Lithuania – concerns for human rights?

June 1, 2020

Mindaugas Kukaitis

I believe that no one has the moral right to say that there is no need to fight epidemics, pandemics and that every saved life is irrelevant to the state, although we must question whether the state has taken reasonable and adequate measures to prevent spread the disease while having all the legal instruments in its hands and while managing financial resources with the right intentions.

Before discussing whether the taken measures are adequate we need to look at the official statistics – average worldwide morbidity is 57 cases per 100 thousand population (fatality rate – 6,77 per cent); Spain – 488 (fatality rate – 11,9 per cent from diagnosed persons); USA – 444; United Kingdom – 356; Belarus – 294; France – 211; Germany – 210; Russia – 180; Turkey – 176; Lithuania – 54 (fatality rate – 3,54 per cent); Poland – 47;  Kazakhstan – 30 (fatality rate – 0,59 per cent); Georgia – 18.

There are only few situations when the state can legally restrict the individual rights and freedoms, i.e. by introducing martial law, by introducing a state of emergency and, as has now happened in Lithuania, the introducing a quarantine. Martial law – is a special legal situation established by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Law on Military Situation of the Republic of Lithuania, which is introduced to protect the Homeland in case of armed attack or threat, when the sovereignty of the State of Lithuania or the integrity of its territory is threatened, or, if necessary, to fulfil the international obligations of the State of Lithuania in order to ensure the defence of the State and other vital functions of the State during the war. A state of emergency is a special legal regime in a state or a part thereof, which allows to apply temporary restrictions which are established in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Law on State of Emergency on the exercise of the rights and freedoms of natural persons and temporary restrictions on the activities of legal persons. Quarantine, on the other hand, is a special regime for the prevention and control of contagious diseases introduced to individual establishments or infected areas when the prevalence of contagious pathogens of unknown origin or cases, outbreaks or epidemics of particularly serious contagious diseases are recorded. The purpose of quarantine is to establish special conditions for work, life, rest, travel, economic and other activities of persons and thereby limit the spread of contagious diseases (the Law on the Prevention and Control of Contagious Diseases of the Republic of Lithuania). If the first two situations clearly give the State the legislative power to restrict human rights and freedoms, then the legal and factual purpose of Quarantine is quite different, during which special conditions for work, life, rest, travel, economic and other activities of persons must be established. Nevertheless, after the introduction of the Quarantine Regime in Lithuania, it can be seen that some actions, decisions and prohibitions did not create special conditions, but simply limited, restricted, complicated parts of the natural human rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (inviolability of the private life of a human; inviolability of the property; inviolability of the home of a human being; prohibition of limitation of judicial protection; prohibition of free movement, free departure from Lithuania; prohibiting or obstructing citizens to choose unarmed to peaceful meetings; opportunities for free choice of work and business, the right to decent, safe and healthy working conditions, fair pay for work and social security; the right to rest and leisure; the right to strike; the right to receive medical aid and services, and etc).

What is worrying?

Firstly, the Quarantine is not equal to a state of emergency or martial law, but the restrictions of Quarantine are greater than those of a state of emergency or war.

Secondly, all decisions on restrictions on human rights and freedoms have been transferred from the level of the Legislators to the level of the Government and even further below to the level of the Minister, although these decisions should be adopted and allowed only by the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania.

Thirdly, decisions on restrictions are taken as a matter of urgency, without a mechanism for urgently defending violated rights, without an impact assessment, without a debate with the public, without a strategy disclosed to the public in advance, chaotically.

Fourthly, people’s dependence on power is increasing. In the absence of a revealed strategic plan for the application of restrictions, it is impossible to plan, predict, prepare for the actions of the Government, especially prohibitions, constraints, restrictions.

Fifthly, disproportionate prohibitions were applied or attempted to be enacted – it was aimed to legalize the control of data traffic on mobile devices as detailed in the Law on Regulation of Communications, attempted to restrict the constitutional right of medical staff to freely choose workplaces, involuntary treatment was introduced, the movement of the non-sick (healthy people) was limited by the property they own.

Sixthly, there is no prediction of legal certainty, clarity and action in today’s politics. It must be borne in mind that any restriction can be both a medicine and a poison with irreversible consequences.

What needs to change?

It is necessary to start with clear strategic plans on how to deal with the epidemic, when, what, how and under what conditions restrictive measures will be applied and how and when they will be lifted. Restrictions must be adequate, proportionate, timely and professionally justified.

The Lithuanian Bar Association has taken active steps to provide criticism and our own expert assessment of possible human rights violations in the legislation.

Representatives of the State did not assess the threat of the virus before its arrival, but the people have underestimated the increase in States‘ power at the expense of human rights. Government must serve the people, not the other way around. The minimum thing we need to do immediately is to return our free thoughts to the thoughts of the former free man and to defend the fundamental principles of human rights.

Access to Justice in Covid-19 Pandemic Times (introduction to discussion)

May 23, 2020

Ph. D. Piotr Chrzczonowicz

A discussion concerning main identified fields of risk to existing (and preferred) standards in relation to the access to justice should be preceded by some reflections of a general nature.

  1. Access to justice must be treated as a basic principle of the rule of law (pandemic situation could be a temptation for authorities to soften this principle, to treat it in an instrumental way)  

Access to justice is, in a country based on the rule of law, a general and collective procedural safeguard for anyone seeking justice, including a number of specific procedural guarantees, which are based on human rights protection standards expressed in international, EU and domestic law. This safeguard is available to every individual as well as every specific groups of persons in an equal and non-discriminatory manner. It is provided by a variety of legal and institutional solutions (e.g. exemption from legal costs, access to professional legal assistance – legal aid, right to information, right to interpretation and translation) [1] [2].

  1. A lack of true respect for neuralgic civil human rights (in the sphere of justice) means a lack of access to justice (pandemic situation caused that the access to justice had been troubled and limited in some terms)

There is no real access to justice if, in the normative or practical sphere, an adequate level of respect for human rights – individual or group rights – is not ensured (not achieved) by public authorities. ‘An adequate level of respect for human rights’ means the existence of legal regulations of a good quality, honest conduct of state bodies – investigative and judicial bodies in relation to humans involved in justice system (for instance, proper, scrupulous performance of their duties and tasks, delivering a reliable information about rights of persons facing justice, etc.). Also, there is no real access to justice without effective functioning of the system of aid institutions organized or supported by state authorities (like points of free legal aid for people, institutions providing specific assistance to victims of crime)[3].

  • #Stay at home (and possibly suffer from domestic violence) – the influence of the COVID-19 pandemics on the development of domestic violence phenomenon is observed. Weaknesses of access to justice concerning domestic violence matters in times of pandemics are observed too.

Domestic violence certainly isn’t a new phenomenon but it provides new challenges in the context of a current pandemic and so-called lockdown restrictions [4] [5] [6]. In Poland, the implementation of the slogan ‘#stay at home’ (as a part of the prophylactic, anti-COVID-19 campaign) has resulted, among others, in deepening of the problem of domestic violence [7]. New outbreaks of domestic violence have been observed. And there, where violence has been occurred earlier, this phenomenon turned to be more intensive [8]. Victims of domestic violence have lost many possibilities of legal and factual actions [9]. Due to restrictions on the work of courts, the previously initiated proceedings for eviction of domestic tyrants (civil ones) have slowed down. On the other side, some new legal instruments to help victims of domestic violence have been created (in Poland, new anti-violence law was passed some weeks ago, on the 30th of April, 2020). This law enables the application of the instant separation of violence offenders from their victims (quicker procedures, more assistance and protection to victims) [10]. But, of course, this is the regulation – another issue is the practice (which quality and effectiveness largely depend on criminal policy priorities specified by proper bodies of the state).

  1. COVID-19 pandemic has become a source of serious challenges facing justice systems and justice-involved people (in domestic, transnational and international dimensions)

The COVID-19 pandemic situation, which is, in fact, sudden and unprecedented, has become a source of specific, serious challenges for justice systems in every rule of law country in the world, leading to questions and concerns about the efficiency of their functioning, their ability to maintain the existing relevant standards of the rule of law in different types of proceedings, their ability to deal with new problems, such as the large-scale use of new technologies to carry out their tasks, or their readiness to fulfil health and safety conditions for participants in different types activities which must take the form of direct human contact [11].

The abruptness and dynamics of the pandemic situation have compelled the authorities in many countries to introduce specific legal regulations ‘for pandemic times’. Due to the rush – such regulations aren’t always well-prepared from the technical and factual point of view, sometimes chaotic, difficult to be transparently interpreted and applied in practice, raising objections as to their compliance with the constitutional regulations of states or with the EU or international standards of law expressing the rule of law principle [12] [13].

E-justice and e-access to justice aren’t the distant future but they are not universal and similarly developed in every country. The COVID-19 pandemic in many countries has de facto started a revolutionary change in justice systems, consisting in the need to modernize them closely related to the use of new technologies, including those that facilitate or even make possible for a person the access to justice [14]. Yes, the symptoms of modernization have already been visible in justice systems before, but the current pandemic is a factor which  accelerates clearly of the processes that are still ongoing, and their directions open discussions on bringing together the effectiveness of the functioning of the justice system with respecting of previously adopted standards concerning the access to justice by the interested parties (persons).

Globally, in many cases a pandemic shock was for justice like a sand spill in the rotating modes of a working machine. A number of justice systems slowed down, current works of their administration has been divided into those with more priority and those that can wait. This slowdown was made possible formally by special legal regulations of ‘pestilence times’ (e.g. suspension of limitation periods, deletions of dates of court hearings and other procedural activities as well as postponement of these activities). This slowdown occurred in connection with the necessary reorganization of the current functioning of justice systems – i.e. with regarding limitations that affected the current work rhythm of e.g. the police, prosecutors, judges or lawyers, but also their administrations: police stations, public prosecutor’s offices, courts’ administrations and legal offices [15] [16]. Moreover, it was connected with the necessity to adapt the employees of the justice administration and auxiliary apparatus to perform their duties remotely, outside their normal places of work, which was not always possible or entirely effective (not every case file could be kept at home, not every employee is advanced in using devices from the area of new technologies, not always – outside the place of work – it is possible to have access to internal IT systems of the administration of justice with data relevant to the case, also – safe and confidential communication – for instance with a client – is not always possible outside the place of work, outside the office). For example, in Poland, due to a pandemic situation, no courts’ hearings or courts’ open sessions were held for a longer time. The planned dates of hearings and open sessions have been deleted, at first – till the end of April, then, at least, until the end of May. Another example: the prosecutor’s office instructs about the rights of the parties – victims of crime and suspects, but it’s not very easy to exercise some of these rights effectively (e.g. the right to review the files of completed preparatory proceedings became, to a certain degree, not obvious in many public prosecutor’s offices).

Many people have been experienced and they are experiencing by difficulties in undisturbed access to justice, and the pandemic makes these difficulties more serious. Certain standards in this area, created in ‘normal’ times (for ‘normal’ times), do exist, but the pandemic shock has made that there emerged troubles to apply them. It is not always easy to obtain the assistance of an emergency lawyer in the procedure of so-called ex officio legal aid. The contact of a person deprived of his/her liberty (being in pre-trial detention, being a prisoner) with his/her lawyer has been subjected to restrictive conditions which may pose a threat not only to the value which is a freedom of contact, but also to the value which is a confidentiality of communication between a lawyer and a client (i.e. legal privilege) [17]. The access to a lawyer of a person in detention may be formally complicated. To exemplify it, in Poland, the Prison Service requires a certificate of health from a lawyer who wants to meet his/her client in a prison [18]. By the way, the increase in the use of forms of remote communication between the lawyer and his/her client has boosted a risk of violating the secrecy of such communication by state authorities willing to apply surveillance methods and instruments. There have appeared also some quite new challenges, such as the access to justice for specific subjects – coronavirus-infected persons (suspects, defendants, victims or other interested persons). For example, in Toruń, a suspect infected by coronavirus was interrogated through a videoconferencing system with devices installed in a public transport bus rented for this purpose from city public transport enterprise (interrogation was without the participation of a lawyer and it was linked to the proceedings concerning the issue of pre-trial detention).

The progressive ‘technologicalisation’ of access to justice may mean that the difficulties of such access will affect technologically excluded persons, who will be required – without any alternative in this respect – to use new technologies (e.g. sending procedural letters in their matters via e-mail) [19].

It appears that the exiting and required standards of access to justice often ‘hamper’ activities considered to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

In COVID-19 pandemic times, new technologies in access to justice seem to be not only comfortable, but also necessary. Institutions in the sphere of justice system are concrete places, but concrete places are less important things than concrete services which are supplied to people by such institutions. Mentioned services create justice and this is exactly what society needs and expects [20]. Of course, the application of new technologies opening justice in various situations cannot be chaotic and it needs proper, clear legal frames (if such frames haven’t been established yet). A usage of new, modern technologies to ensure well-functioning and flexibility of justice systems should be safe. Technological infrastructure, recommended devices and communication channels must allow to protect different types of data during the distant contact with representatives of investigative and judicial bodies. For instance, there arise questions on subjects (institutions) responsible for processing of plenty of data connected with the access to justice, how this processing will be controlled and who will be entitled to get the access to such data. Another question is on the quality of ‘shields’ giving effective security from cyberattacks and from harmful consequences due to such attacks.

  1. Access to justice – a new face of the procedural safeguard in pandemic times (some final reflections and postulates)
  • Legal and practical solutions in the sphere of access to justice safeguard, prepared for pandemic times, should be compatible with standards of the rule of law and this compatibility should be monitored.
  • Standards of access to justice should be equal for everyone who looks for it (i.e. for free people, people being in pre-trial detention, prisoners). It seems to be obvious in theory but, however, it isn’t obvious in practice.
  • People seeking justice in institutions which demand from them a distant contact should have right to access to technological devices and communication technologies ensuring them safe forms of contact (protecting their privacy, personal data, contents of sending documents).
  • New face of access to justice means also a new face of functioning of many lawyers in their professional life (contacts with clients, contacts with investigative and judicial bodies, new challenges in processing and protection of various types of data). Many lawyers will need advanced education in new technologies to do their work (routine professional activities). Safe professional relations with coronavirus infected clients (even if the infection or illness is potential) seem to be a special challenge.
  • Domestic violence during pandemic seems to be a growing problem. Victims of domestic violence – a special category of victims (i.e. victims which can be characterized as vulnerable and sensitive ones) will need more external assistance, among others in effective access to justice (including contact with a lawyer, launching of criminal or civil proceedings, representation or support in such proceedings). In some countries (at least) new legal regulations establishing help instruments addressing to victims will be needed. However the law – important and necessary – should be completed by effective practice in its application.
  • Access to justice demanding more new technologies and means of distant communication could be – on the one hand – easier but – on the other hand – not for all interested people (not effective access to access to justice for technologically excluded and marginalized persons).
  • Access to justice, demanding more new technologies and means of distant communication, could be a value more exposed to surveillance from state services as well as to dangers of cyberattacks committed by cybercriminals.

The above-mentioned thoughts need to be discussed. Such discussion, I hope, will bring us a bit closer to answer the question on the value of access to justice in current pandemic times. Will this new and unprecedented situation make for people the justice closer or more distant?


[1] Francesco Francioni (ed.), Access to Justice as a Human Right, Oxford University Press, Oxford – New York 2007 [passim].

[2] Handbook on European law relating to access to justice, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and Council of Europe, Publications Office od the European Union, Luxembourg 2016, pp. 15 – 22.

[3] V. Lima, M. Gomez, Access to Justice: Promoting the Legal System as a Human Right [in:] W. Leal Filho (ed.), Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Springer Publishing 2020, pp. 1 – 2, 3 – 4, 7 – 8.

[4] A. Taub, A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. Movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the coronavirus may be making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous, The New York Times, April 6 (updated: April 14), 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html [17.05.2020].

[5] M. Godin, As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out, Time, March 18, 2020, https://time.com/5803887/coronavirus-domestic-violence-victims/ [17.05.2020].

[6] C. Bettinger-Lopez, A. Bro, A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19, Council of Foreign Relations, May 13, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/double-pandemic-domestic-violence-age-covid-19 [17.05.2020].

[7] A. Wądołowska, Locked down with a violent partner: domestic violence soars in Poland during coronavirus pandemic, NFP [Notes from Poland], April 13, 2020, https://notesfrompoland.com/2020/04/13/locked-down-with-a-violent-partner-domestic-violence-soars-in-poland-during-coronavirus-pandemic/ [18.05.2020].

[8] I. Le Page, Fears of domestic violence rise as millions confined over virus, CTV News, March 28, 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/fears-of-domestic-violence-rise-as-millions-confined-over-virus-1.4872437 [18.05.2020].

[9] M. Nightingale, J. Hofman, S. Grand-Clement, Resources for Covid-19 abuse victims ‘insufficient’, EUobserver, London, 8 May, 2020, https://euobserver.com/opinion/148294 [17.05.2020].

[10] Sprawcy przemocy domowej będą natychmiast izolowani. Sejm przyjął ustawę antyprzemocową, Gazeta Prawna.pl, 30.04.2020, https://prawo.gazetaprawna.pl/artykuly/1473817,sprawcy-przemocy-domowej-beda-natychmiast-izolowani-sejm-przyjal-ustawe-antyprzemocowa.html [18.05.2020].

[11] See, for instance, documents gathered by CCBE and available at: https://www.ccbe.eu/actions/covid-19/#c3165 [18.05.2020].

[12] The impact of Covid-19 on human rights & the rule of law – Council of Europe standards (part 1 of 2), webinar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsehViuAWHE&feature=youtu.be [18.05.2020].

[13] The impact of Covid-19 on human rights & the rule of law – Council of Europe standards (part 2 of 2), webinar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac3-t99bLyc [18.05.2020].

[14] R. Kuybida, How COVID-19 Forces Courts to Operate Creatively Under New Circumstances, Reanimation Package of Reforms, https://rpr.org.ua/en/news/how-covid-19-forces-courts-to-operate-creatively-under-new-circumstances/ [18.05.2020].

[15] Impact of the COVID-19 virus on the justice field, European e-justice, https://e-justice.europa.eu/content_impact_of_the_covid19_virus_on_the_justice_field-37147-en.do [18.05.2020].

[16] Management of the judiciary – compilation of comments and comments by country, Council of Europe, European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), https://www.coe.int/en/web/cepej/compilation-comments#Poland [18.05.2020].

[17] See, for instance: E. R. Bailey, Attorney-client privilege should not stop at the prison gate, Buckley LLP, Lexology, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=788285e3-71ac-4af4-abba-36c6cefb3c8d [18.05.2020].

[18] Koronawirus: Sytuacja w więzieniach budzi poważne obawy. RPO do Służby Więziennej, Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich,  https://www.rpo.gov.pl/pl/content/koronawirus-rpo-sytuacja-w-wiezieniach-budzi-powazne-obawy [17.05.2020].

[19] R. Smith, Technology and Access to Justice: a help or hindrance?, March 20, 2019, Law technology and Access to Justice, https://law-tech-a2j.org/digital-strategy/technology-and-access-to-justice-a-help-or-hindrance/ [17.05.2020].

[20] J. Richards, How will the justice system withstand the coronavirus pandemic? When courts close more fully, consequences will reach every corner of society, Prospect, March 18, 2020,  https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/how-will-the-justice-system-withstand-the-coronavirus-pandemic-covid-19-outbreak-courts-democracy-law [18.05.2020].

Access to Justice in Covid-19 Pandemic Times in Spain

May 18, 2020

Juan Nunez

The terrible Covid-19 pandemic in which we are involved, not only in Spain, but throughout the world, will have relevant legal consequences, as we already all know. The inevitable economic crisis derived from this pandemic will affect several legal aspects and principles.

After my opinion, the most affected will be

  • the general theory of contracts,
  • the insolvency situations and
  • the labor relationships

Referring to the theory of contractsa lot of legal relationships will be affected because it will very difficult for one of the parties to continue complying with an agreement signed under circumstances having radically changed.

A huge number of contracts will be under this situation.

Without forgetting the principle of “pacta sunt servanda” (agreements have to be fulfilled) legal remedies will have to fit the principles of “force majeure” and “rebus sic stantibus” (restoration of an agreement that has turned unbalanced by unpredictable events), to settle these issues.

On the other hand, and due to this situation, a lot of companies and individual entrepreneurs will come into unavoidable financial difficulties. For these cases, our law has rapidly react retarding any deadline to lodge any proceeding of insolvency until the end of the year, to allow the entrepreneurs to try to recover their business.

Finally, all this situation affects employment; thousands of people losing their work and claiming their rights. In spite of the measures that have been implemented to suspend or reduce work, a lot of business will not be able to resist. Courts, as all other activities that can concentrate lot of people, has been almost entirely stopped, and only urgent matters are to be attended. Access to justice has been organized for when the state of alarm will be over, and some measures have been adopted to manage with all the conflicts that are arising during this period without normal working Courts.

The measures to organize the Courts in order to confront the effects of Covid–19 are about (1) procedural measures, (2) insolvency measures and (3) technological measures.

  1. The goal of the procedural measures is to discharge concentration of lawsuits to be filed. The most polemic procedural measure implied is to active the period between 11 and 31 August, while August has been always Court holidays. Additionally, all the time schedules and deadlines of the different matters and procedures that may have been suspended will, either re-start entirely again, or be enlarged considerably, to avoid the collapse, and to allow to attend, until the rest of the year 2020, some priority matters, like:
  • Issues with minors
  • Conflicts on stoppage of mortgages or rentals.
  • Conflicts on public aids or subsides related to pandemic.
  • Conflicts on labor relations, due to pandemic measures.

2. On insolvency measures, the law wants to give an especially long time bar period to organize again and to refloat the business until end of the year 2020. During this lapse of time, no insolvency claims from creditors will be accepted, giving time to the debtor to file his own insolvency proceedings.A special time bar of one year has been adopted to allow debtors to negotiate once again their payment conventions.During one year after termination of the estate of alarm, only urgent issues will be solved.

3. Finally, the law implies technological measures to reduce presence organizing hearings on-line, and reducing present formalities as much as possible.

This means the implementation of technological tools at any court, which is still a pending challenge; al least, it will be a benefit that will remain. In general, rules have been implemented to refrain the effect of the wave of proceedings, in the confidence to speed the proceedings, and to avoid physical contact.

However, the number of proceedings will be extremely high; even if at this moment the tribunals only work in urgent matters, the filing of lawsuits is possible; some 2.500 proceedings have been already filed at Barcelona’s Courts.

And these new proceedings, and the new ones during and after the state of alarm, arrive to a judicial system which is already collapsed. Nowadays, before the pandemic, hearings in some tribunals were already being appointed over six to nine months, or even more.

It is often said that late justice is not justice, and therefore, the access to justice will be not satisfactory.

Some rules implemented for the pandemic effects, oblige consumers and providers of services and goods to try to reach agreements for adaptation of their relationships to the situation for 60 days before resolving, when the agreement could or may not be fulfilled properly (for instance, closed fitness clubs, closed learning centers, concerted weddings and celebrations, lack of deliveries). It is clear that countless lawsuits will be filed because of contractual relationships, in which the parties have not reached an agreement.

An already collapsed justice cannot afford this new situation, and it is time for intensively promote mediation and arbitration.

We, lawyers, have to lead the way to provide justice by promoting agreements out of courts between the parts in conflicts. It is clearly time now to let mediation and arbitration display their advantages. It will be the only way, in most of the cases, to obtain not only justice, but satisfactory results for the parties.

We have to keep in mind, however, that these ADR means should be a choice and not a necessity, since the citizen shall have the right of access to justice; of course, we are confronted to an extraordinary and unpredictable situation, but the citizen will suffer more than if the system were not already so overloaded. This happens when justice is not a priority for the governors.

The situation of criminal proceedings is quite different; of course, all these rules do not affect to proceedings in which fundamental rights could be affected. For those files, courts have maintained their activity.Procedures of habeas corpus, incidents with prison conditions and permissions, gender violence, and all non-delayable issues are treated.

However, there are some issues affecting substantial rights, like the provision implemented by the Royal decree declaring the state of alarm, by suspending the deadline of prescription of all acting’s and rights, without further clarification: the problem is that, since no more clarification was made, we do not know if this suspension means an enlargement of the statute of limitation of delicts. In fact, it should not, since the access of justice during that time is possible for urgent matters, and because this interpretation would affect constitutional rights, but the debate is open.

How Does the Legal Profession in China Respond to Covid-19?

May 5, 2020

Sharon Shi

As the Covid-19 pandemic touches all of us, the legal profession in China has been dealing with the crisis actively. Lawyers, law firms and bar associations are all contributing what they can. This article illustrates a general picture of how we respond to the crisis.

I. Working with clients

During a crisis like Covid-19, clients tend to seek their peace of mind from professionals such as lawyers, consultants, etc. What clients may not realise is that law firms can easily fall into operational difficulty like their clients. This means that to maintain the service quality and efficiency may cost extra time, money and efforts.
Generally, more patience and empathy with clients are required. For example, many of our manufacturing clients were forced to face the consequences of late resumption of work, hence a possible breach of contract. Panic and agitation follow when clients think they could do nothing but wait. We spent lots of time explaining to them in detail how delayed delivery or performance might not necessary be the end of the world, there are various tools that might help them. Another major difficulty all of us dealt with was analysing the conditions for resumption and work, and the procedures the clients should follow to report and apply for resumption. As different provinces, cities even districts all have different measures and requirements, the policies are also changing constantly, to give clients clear and accurate guidance is a huge challenge.
Regarding the areas of law that we focus on during the outbreak, one of the key areas is labour law. At the early stage of the outbreak, we helped clients better implement their quarantine measures, and provided compliance services regarding salaries adjustments, shift rotation, shorter working hours, etc. As the outbreak develops, inevitably some clients had to resort to lay-off. Chinese labour contract law is very protective of employees, during the outbreak, the government issued various guidance regarding laying off employees, the general principles are to discourage termination so as to reduce social instability, but to provide delayed social security payment or subsidies for professional training etc. in hope that these will help employers to keep the work force with a reduced salary pay. We provided our clients with mixed options, such as economic layoff, dismissing company officers who misappropriated the property of the company, or mutual agreed termination.
We have also been focusing on cybersecurity and personal information processing during the outbreak. More clients and customers are working from home, cybersecurity became very important. We helped our clients identify data exposure risks while their employees worked outside office and keep them vigilant with potential data leak accidents. After the lockdown ended, and when people start entering office buildings to resume work, the collection of personal information at every entry of building becomes the new concern – for example, who could collect and for what purposes? How such data will be handled, stored, or disposed?

II. Actively embrace the new features of the legal industry

Driven by the epidemic, judicial authorities and administrative departments in China have taken a leap in digital transformation, which has consequently changed how lawyers work. Specifically,local governments have launched online government service platforms. For example, via the “Integrated Online Platform” in Shanghai, it is now possible for people to handle matters such as applying for administrative license, completely online. Local courts have launched online filing, online court sessions and other services to make remote litigation possible. This helps lawyers not only to save time and travel costs, but also to break through the original geographical limitation and reduce the impact caused by the epidemic and travel restriction.

The epidemic has accelerated law firms’ demand for online collaborative and virtual office. During the epidemic, lawyers work through WeChat, E-mail, online meeting rooms and other forms of remote communication tools. For law firms, while providing the convenience of remote office and remote trial for lawyers, they can also take advantage to increase business opportunities and save office costs through online legal services.

Another feature is that, once lawyers realised the convenience of online meeting room and conference tools, the number of webinars has skyrocketed. Internal training for law firms through webinar is adopted while lawyers work from home and while business is not busy. It brings lawyers closer, and it keeps everyone occupied. Clients are invited, as part of the legal service, which are well appreciated by the clients.

III. Take social responsibilities during the epidemic

During the outbreak of the epidemic, All China Lawyers Association, local associations of lawyers and their members have been actively doing their part in the prevention and control of the spread of the virus. Take Shanghai Bar Association as an example, as of April 7, according to incomplete statistics, the legal sector in Shanghai had donated more than 20 million and 250 thousand yuan in total in cash; and donated more than 30 million yuan of medical protective supplies and other goods and materials to Wuhan and other cities in need of such goods. Furthermore, lawyers in Shanghai published more than 1,300 professional articles related to the legal issues related to the epidemic prevention and control. Besides, to help relevant government departments better formulate corresponding policies and measures on the epidemic, Shanghai lawyers submitted more than 100 proposals based on the result of a wide-range client survey and research.

As for law firms, take AllBright Law Offices as an example: we launched “AllBright Public Fund” for Covid-19 and accept donations of medical supplies through various channels. We purchased in total 1.2 million disposable medical gloves, 3,000 medical goggles and other medical supplies to support those at the front line of epidemic prevention and control. We also conducted a series of legal research on current issues under the epidemic and launched special columns. For example, different legal jurisdictions have different regulations or policies on whether the epidemic could be regarded as “force majeure” and thus as a reason for exemption from contractual liabilities. Considering the complexity of the issue, we collaborate with the Belt and Road Committee of Shanghai Bar Association. A series of articles have been issued to the public for reference. Meanwhile, we participated in a specific research launched by Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Justice regarding problems or difficulties that foreign enterprises have encountered during the resumption of work.

In times of changes and uncertainty, it is only natural to panic. Although in China the worst is over and things are getting back to normal, the impact of the global pandemic on economy and legal profession has just started. We found that many of the cross-border M&A and commercial collaboration projects are delayed or canceled. However, due to the disturbance of the outbreak, disputes increased and lots of business went bust, so we are facing increasing litigation and arbitration cases, as well as a busy bankruptcy and restructuring business. We hope to report more in the near future with more new development from China. If anyone is particular interested in any aspects, please feel free to contact me.

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