Criminal justice and technology experts discussed rule of law challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic with civil society representatives at an event hosted by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE on October 5, 2022. The event took place in the margins of the Warsaw Conference on the Human Dimension.
While the pandemic is largely under control today, OSCE participating States still face challenges in ensuring the right to a fair trial, participants noted.
“The continued use of online hearings in situations where the right to a fair trial cannot be guaranteed must end,” said Karine Simonsen, ODIHR’s rule of law officer. “At the same time, states must work to develop clear and predictable emergency rules and legislation to be used in the event of future public health emergencies.”
The experts highlighted good practices from the ODIHR guidance note titled “Fair Trial Rights and Public Health Emergencies” developed in the wake of the pandemic. This provides tailored recommendations for policy makers and the judiciary on how to uphold the right to a fair trial and administer the justice system during public health emergencies. In particular, he notes the importance of confidential attorney-client communication in online hearings and of technologies accessible remotely for victims and witnesses.
The protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms remains an obligation of States under international law even in cases of public emergency, which is also reflected in the commitments made by all OSCE countries (Document of Moscow, 1991). In this regard, the steps taken by the Council of Europe to move towards the digitalization of justice in line with the European Convention on Human Rights were highlighted as a positive practice. At the national level, civil society can participate both by proposing adequate legislation and by ensuring that States respect the standards they have set for themselves.
“Respect for the right to a fair trial and access to justice must be guaranteed by law,” said Anara Ibrayeva, director of the public association “Dignity” in Kazakhstan. “Partnering with civil society organizations working on rule of law issues can help state authorities improve both legislation and judicial practice.”