The Rule of Law in Times of Health Crises

The COVID-19 pandemic has again highlighted the close links between authorities’ responses to a health crisis, and the rule of law.

To control the spread of the virus, and to preserve health systems and human lives, governments around the world have limited individual freedoms. They have taken measures ranging from collecting and processing private data, to general population confinement – including strict quarantine. Without pronouncing on their necessity or effectiveness, in respect to controlling the epidemic, these measures question the principle of the rule of law: were they taken by competent authorities, in accordance with the procedures and conditions established by law, without giving rise to discrimination? This paper considers the relevance of the rule of law in the event of major crises: can countries with a robust legal system be considered better equipped to deal with an epidemic? Should development aid programmes aimed at strengthening the rule of law in developing countries include this dimension of crisis resilience in their support?

In examining the relationship between rule of law and health crises, focusing in particular on the present COVID-19 crisis, this paper draws lessons about how the rule of law and its core elements have the potential to contribute to the empowerment of societies to respond to crisis situations. Furthermore, the paper offers clear recommendations as to how programmes aiming to strengthen the rule of law in official development assistance-eligible countries, and legal sector actors (especially those involved in pro bono technical assistance), can meaningfully contribute to this response.

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