Is the rule of law also shaken by the COVID-19?

    Nobody in their dreams thought that a period like this will come, where we will be stuck at our homes and that distancing from other humans and being isolated will be the only way of staying safe and keeping others safe.  The world was not ready for a pandemic like this. The widespread use of coronavirus or COVID-19 has left the world with so many new challenges, legal, economic and social challenges. This article will majorly be focusing on the legal challenges and issues and ways to tackle the ongoing pandemic situation through legal tools. To understand the impact of the global pandemic, we need to understand the meaning and nature of the coronavirus.  The world health organization has defined Covid-19 as a contagious/infectious disease caused by the newly discovered coronavirus. It firstly spread in the city of Wuhan in China and later spread and infected the people of the whole world. The total number of confirmed reported cases in the world is 11.4 million as of now. And 697 thousand cases nationwide. The number of deaths is also huge. But thanks to the frontline warriors and other COVID-19 warriors, many patients have recovered. Now let’s understand various impacts of this pandemic on the world.

    Quarantine’s impact and the law

    Quarantine in medical terms means separating person/s or communities who are exposed to an infectious disease. This is the first step any government should take when the country is exposed to an infectious disease. As the coronavirus is spreading, the government has been imposing travel bans and lockdowns to prevent further spread of the virus since quarantine is a medically accepted way of tackling any infectious disease. As easy as it sounds, the implementation of lockdown and travel bans is a difficult thing to do. The imposing of the lockdown has an impact on the various arenas and mainly economic. This lockdown has deeply impacted both the organized and unorganized sector worldwide. People working in the unorganized sector are the ones who are completely broken down by the imposition of lockdown. People who live on day to day pay are completely running out of their savings and have no income. These people have no legal option. This pandemic has been impacting the mental health of people. Locked down in their homes with no source of money and constant fear of being infected has left people in distress and has been resulting in mental health issues like anxiety, depression etc. The state governments and the central government have imposed this lockdown under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The National Disaster Management Authority lays down the guidelines for the imposition of nationwide lockdown. Taking a cue from the guidelines, the State governments and authorities exercised powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 to issue further directions[1]. The government is imposing strict social distancing and people are required to stay at home and only go out of their houses for essential things while following social distancing guidelines. Although, the lockdown has been imposed and it has resulted in containment of the virus to some extent. Since India is a populous country, it needs a new and innovative policy to tackle this challenge. Law should be modified according to the need of the hour. Since the challenge is new, the country needs new laws to fight the battle against the virus. The country needs a new act fully dedicated to this pandemic which will lay out the guidelines according to this situation. Rule of Law.

    Impact of the coronavirus on prisoners and overall crime rate

    Impact on prisoners

    The states are obliged both positively and negatively towards their citizens. It is the state’s duty to protect the right to life of all its citizens. Due to the outbreak of a global pandemic, everyone’s life is at risk. Normal citizens have access to the health care facilities but in this pandemic, the prisoners, in general, are at a higher risk. These are the people who are deprived of their personal liberty require special focus since there is a high risk of spread of the virus among people in jails and officers working there as there is a higher concentration of people in small cells and has restricted access to health care facilities. Of course, the prisoners cannot be released but can be provided with special care. Many states in the country have reported active cases of the coronavirus in the prisoners. If we talk globally, countries like the United States have reported many cases in prison, the prisoners, as well as correctional officers, are infected with the virus. If we take a look at our own country’s prison conditions. Indian prisons are overcrowded. More than 60% of the prisoners in India are under trial. The overcrowded population in such small places will put everyone there at the risk of being infected. At times like this, the rules already existing for the protection of their rights should be implemented properly. The model prisoners act 2016 lays out guidelines for situations like this. There are provisions to provide separate building/isolation cells for the infected inmates and segregated sheds for the inmates, in general, to carry out social distancing effectively and to ensure that prisons do not become a centre of coronavirus infection[2].  Rule of Law 

     Impact on the crime rate 

    While disrupting the social and economic lives of many people, it has only one positive impact or we can say the only gain we had is a considerable decline in crime rates in the country. The imposition of lockdown which includes social distancing and limited gatherings in public has definitely impacted the crime rates in the country. Crime rates in many states in India have decreased in this pandemic. The number of crime types such as burglary, robbery, theft etc has been declining. While these crime rates are declining, other crimes like domestic violence and child abuse have seen a tremendous increase in the time of this pandemic. There are laws in the country especially focusing on issues like this namely Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 but still becomes useless at times like this because of the deeply rooted patriarchal ideas and gendered roles and stereotypes. But the main problem in this is unreported crimes. To tackle the problem of increased domestic violence and intimate partner violence is that accessible helpline services can be provided and victims can be provided with counselling, shelter and medical help if required. These are some of the ways to take control of this issue. Rule of Law 

    The response of united nations [UN] and world health organisation [WHO]

    The United Nations and world health organization are the international platforms is also trying its best to fight them, not at all anticipated battle. Since this is a global pandemic, it requires the coordination of all the states and as an international organization, the UN and WHO should ensure that states are coordinating wherever and whenever needed. At times like these, it is essential to counter the challenge of balancing the rule of law at national and international level. Countries are given with emergency powers and undertake expanded roles like the forceful presence of police for safety reasons etc. to tackle these kinds of crisis, and sometimes in the name of exercising these powers they tend to inappropriately use the powers which will lead to disruption of the rule of law. To avoid a situation like this and to protect the human rights of the citizens across the globe, it is the duty of international organizations to layout guidelines and brings in a hands-on approach to uphold the rule of law. The UN has been laying out guidelines to protect the national rule of law. For example, it has expanded police training in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries in promoting a human rights-based approach to COVID-19 related tasks. Together with partners, we have also developed practical tools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, guidance to decongest prisons, and a manual for holding virtual court hearings. Rule of Law 

    Freedom of Press: A Guaranteed Right?

    These materials are now being used around the globe. Peacekeepers have distributed emergency medical supplies, including to beneficiaries of disarmament programmes and to populations affected by armed groups, for example in Darfur and Mali, helping to build confidence among warring factions. (Zouev, 2020)[3]. Coordination is the need of the hour. Though there are many laws, manuals and guidelines for the pandemic, everything will be useless if there is no coordination and cooperation at the national and international level. The world today seems to lack the most thing in this time i.e. cooperation. Coordinating with each other will make things easier to tackle. Rule of Law 

    Conclusion

    Conclusion of the article is that it is very important to strike a balance of law in times of any crisis. We are in a situation of the outbreak of a pandemic which has deeply impacted every aspect of our lives. This virus has resulted in a devastating number of loss of lives and is also disrupting the way we live our daily life. This health crisis has resulted in many other issues like economies of the country affected, the mental health of people. the state needs to tackle the situation with an altogether new approach and should enact new laws if required and give special focus on people who are deprived of their liberties and also the issues like domestic abuse. Law being a dynamic and evolving concept requires it to be modified with new changes in the world. The states internally and at an international level should coordinate well to fight this battle together.  If we fight this battle together and follow rules and guidelines, the battle will be easier to win.

    Endnotes

    1. Reference from an editorial on the laws during the pandemic in the Hindu newspaper
    2. Reference from Opinion article on the impact of prisoners in this pandemic
    3. The report/article by the UN assistant secretary-general on covid19 and actions by the UN

    BY- Tripti khirwal | GD Goenka University

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