Justice for All and the Public Health Emergency

by , | Apr 9, 2020

Read the report: Justice for All and the Public Health Emergency

Last year, our Justice for All report noted that 1.5 billion people had a justice problem they could not resolve. Now, as we gear up to face a global pandemic, a new report exposes the danger to those already poorly served by justice systems, who may face some of the greatest risks. 

Justice systems are vital to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating its worst effects, but they will need to overcome many challenges if they are to operate effectively. Our new briefing, Justice for All and the Public Health Emergency, discusses the most pressing priorities for justice leaders and proposes areas for urgent action in the face of a rising number of infections:

1. Enforce emergency measures fairly

By independently scrutinizing new measures and holding political leaders to account, introducing safeguards for at-risk communities, and encouraging and supporting justice actors to work in partnership with communities and respect human rights.

2. Protect people from violence

By targeting hotspots where insecurity is growing, investing in legal aid and proactive outreach to victims of abuse, and creating safe spaces for people at risk of gender-based and domestic violence.

3. Make people your partners

Through institutions that listen to people’s justice problems and hold political leaders to account, and by working with community leaders and grassroots actors to tackle injustices and limit the pandemic’s impact on daily life.

4. Reduce demand on justice systems

By stripping down services to essentials, releasing prisoners wherever possible, ceasing to arrest people for minor o ences, preventing evictions, and postponing non-urgent civil cases.

5. Increase innovation and smart working

By solving cases online or over the phone instead of in court, and by supporting grassroots and other justice providers to provide their services virtually.

6. Protect the justice workforce

Helping them stay healthy, making them a priority for testing programs, providing them with counselling and support, protecting them from violence, and making sure they are being paid and their labor rights are respected.

7. Prepare for future containment phases

By ensuring new surveillance and testing strategies are in line with human rights standards, monitoring their implementation, and strengthening the institutional capacity to identify and respond to emerging justice problems.

As we and more than 50 of the world’s leading thinkers on justice have identified in the report, these steps will be key to ensuring the justice gap does not continue to widen over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, causing greater harm to the world’s most vulnerable groups. Put simply:

… If we get our response right, societies will be better able to confront the pandemic effectively and fairly. That will build the foundations for reset and recovery. If we get it wrong, it is no exaggeration to say that people will die unnecessarily.

Read the report: Justice for All and the Public Health Emergency


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

  • Mark Weston

    Mark Weston is a writer, researcher and consultant working on public health, justice, youth employability and other global issues. He lives in Sudan, and is the author of two books on Africa – The Ringtone and the Drum and African Beauty.

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