Thanks to UniTrento and WHO, the "COVID-19 Litigation Project," the first open-access database to help judges around the world decide with speed and international feedback on the legitimacy of government decisions on fundamental rights and pandemic issues, comes to life. The challenge: balancing fundamental rights and freedoms.
When and on what basis can a state be held accountable for measures taken in a pandemic? Is the declaration of a state of emergency always a necessary step in taking measures restricting personal freedoms? Who judges the discretion with which governments make decisions in a crisis situation, and how do they balance fundamental individual and community rights? These and many other questions have animated the political and media debate since the beginning of the pandemic from Covid 19. Not only that, they have become issues of such importance to citizens that they have entered everyday conversations and on social media.
At the forefront of determining the legitimacy of public health measures decided by states to address COVID-19 are judges and courts, who use the tool of law to balance health protection with other fundamental rights and to ensure rationality, reasonableness and proportionality of government interventions. To help the courts in their work, the COVID-19 Litigation Project was created, the first international database where litigation information on public health interventions taken in different countries around the world to counter the pandemic is systematically collected and analyzed. An organized catalog, available online in open access mode, in which to consult disputes related to the adoption of public health measures at the regional, national or sub-national level.
The Network - The database is the result of an international collaboration between a group of judges and scholars, coordinated by the University of Trento with its Faculty of Law and with financial support from the World Health Organization. Universities and research centers from Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia are participating in the project.
"The health crisis has presented governments with unprecedented challenges in protecting life and security and has confronted them with the need to make choices, often tragic ones, balancing different rights and fundamental freedoms," explains Paola Iamiceli, UniTrento professor and coordinator of the international project. "We designed and implemented the database to support especially institutional representatives and politicians, lawyers/advocates who play their role in public and private contexts, judges and those who generally deal with law. It allows them to learn from experiences that have emerged in different jurisdictions and can stimulate inter-jurisdictional dialogue to coordinate responses to health crises."
CoViD-19 Litigation Project: how the database works
To protect those who are most vulnerable and ensure balance between rights and social solidarity, courts today are called upon to consider complex scientific and legal issues, albeit in a short time frame and with limited scientific evidence.
The selection of cases focuses on litigation concerning challenges to acts of states (and their sub-state articulations), including situations where administrations have failed to take public health action. Cases published in the database come from jurisdictions (WHO member states, including national and subnational legal systems) in all regions of the world, and, where applicable, from supranational courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights. The database includes essential references on selected cases, as well as an English-language summary of the principles of law applied by the courts.
Cases are identified through a purpose-built international network of judges and scholars, supported by public databases and extensive cross-media research. A crowd sourcing tool has also been activated, enabling broader community involvement. The project website - https://www.covid19litigation.org/ - will host a dedicated channel for case reports from database users.
The database will be continuously updated to reflect developments in the law in each jurisdiction. An interactive search is made available so that users can also provide suggestions for the integration of the database, its use and usefulness.