The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to justice in West Africa: A case study of Benin, Niger and Senegal (August, 2021)

By Africa Judges & Jurists Forum (AJJF)

Access to justice is one of the areas which suffered serious regressive disruption as a result of COVI-19. In order to enjoy access to justice, certain pre-requisites must be in place. Individuals and groups must have access to independent tribunals where their legal disputes are resolved impartially in accordance with the law. They must have access to legal services that are necessary for them to bring their legal cases before the tribunals. These services must be affordable and physically accessible. Legal disputes must be resolved in a timely manner, and effective remedies must be given and enforced. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these pre-requisites for access to justice were not available to some sections of society, particularly vulnerable groups who include women, children, persons with disabilities who are economically marginalized.

However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic further reduced access to justice. Both the virus and the restrictive measures undertaken by States disrupted public access to the systems and structures that had been established to facilitate access to justice. For example, public access to court buildings was severely restricted, while court hearings were postponed during periods of national lockdowns. In some cases, judges and court staff contracted the virus and the courts shut down. The suspension of economic activity during national lockdowns increased the number of people who could no longer afford the costs of legal services and litigation. Restrictions on human movement and public gatherings prevented many indigent persons from accessing pro-bono legal services. Like many other businesses, law firms are struggling financially because of the economic meltdown wrought by the pandemic.

In an attempt to evaluate and examine the full scope of these challenges, the Africa Judges and Jurists Forum (AJJF) commissioned a study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to justice in West Africa, focusing on selected countries as case studies. The study has culminated in this report. We hope that this report will assist stakeholders in the justice sector to better understand the impact of this pandemic on access to justice in these countries, the challenges which have arisen and the solutions that are needed to address these challenges.

Hon. Justice Ernest Sakala – Retired Chief Justice, Zambia & Member of the Judicial Elders’ Council, Africa Judges and Jurists’ Forum (AJJF)

Click to download the study here.

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