Abogacía | 15.04.2020

Impact of Covid-19 in the legal sector in Spain

In just a few weeks we have been involved in a global health emergency, a crisis of enormous magnitude both due to its rapid cross-border development and the high number of deaths, which evokes the misnamed Spanish Flu of 1918.

As back then, COVID-19 is having devastating effects that are still difficult to measure from both an economic and social point of view and whose resolution requires urgent action by both the Government and the Judiciary, in order to set out the measures that are expected from solid institutions according to the Rule of Law.

The impact that this crisis was going to have in the legal sector was quickly revealed in Royal Decree 463/2020 of March 14, which agreed on the state of alarm, seeking from the outset a balance between the health of citizens with the essential guarantee of their rights. For that reason, the rule decreed the general suspension of procedural activity in all jurisdictional orders, save for cases excepted by their urgent and undelayable nature to protect those interests to which delay could cause irreparable damage.

In fulfilling such an important purpose, both the legal profession and the various governing bodies that provide services in the administration of justice have demonstrated a commitment worthy of high praise by being on the front line and guaranteeing from their respective positions the essential right of defence as a backbone of the State. Different resolutions have been gradually adopted by the General Council of the Judiciary, the Superior Courts of Justice of each of the Autonomous Communities and the Dean Courts of various judicial parties, among others, in order to articulate how services will be provided, respecting at all times the recommendations of health authorities.

Similarly, we cannot forget the transcendental role that the professional bars have played, who have quickly adapted their structures, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by new technologies and telework systems, in order to continue providing their services both in the interest of citizens and of bar members.

The bars have served as a link between the administration of justice and the legal profession, being part of the Monitoring Commissions created within the Superior Courts of Justice of each territory. In the case of the Barcelona Bar Association (ICAB), we have not stopped paying attention to the impact that COVID-19 is having in the sector. We have been collecting information and informing our members about the resolutions, agreements and criteria adopted by each of the administrations related to the legal profession. We have also advocated the interests of the legal profession so that it can carry out its work safely, recommending the use of videoconferencing in assisting detainees and people under investigation, as well as the provision of equipment of personal protection such as disinfecting gels, gloves and masks.

The ICAB has also worked on proposals addressed to government authorities designed to tackle the increase in litigation that is expected once the state of alarm is cancelled; and we are offering free streamed legal content.  We have also approved a package of measures that covers different scenarios in order to help our members overcome the economic consequences caused by this exceptional situation.

The purpose of all these measures is to deal with the enormous amount of regulatory activity being carried out by the Government for evident reasons of urgency, which have required an accelerated - as well as rigorous - knowledge on the part of legal service providers, especially the legal profession. We have done this in order to meet the demands of citizens, to alleviate the effects of limiting freedom of movement of people and of curbing economic, labour and professional activity.

The stagnation of the country has raised a great variety of concerns and questions that require a legal response from legal institutions.  The ICAB has channelled through the Legal Orientation Service more than 2,000 queries on matters as varied as compliance with the regimes for children visiting separate parents, problems related to Horizontal Property (regulates the division and organisation of various properties, as a result of the segregation of a building or common land) and the availability of a moratorium or assistance with rent or mortgage payments, or questions relating to ERTEs (under Spanish legislation a "temporary labour force adjustment plan", when contracts are temporarily suspended due to the application of an ERTE based on force majeure or economic, technical, organisational or productive causes).

The world of law, in its basic pacifying function of society, is called to facilitate the recovery of normality; but for this it demands collective responsibility, solidarity and a permanence that is above ideological and partisan individualism - as demonstrated by the Ministry of Justice announcement of an ambitious Shock Plan to prevent the definitive collapse of the judicial system, which has been punished for years by a lack of both material and human resources, something which we must all reverse to ensure compliance with one, now more necessary than ever, effective system of judicial protection.

Mª Eugènia Gay
President of the Barcelona Bar Association (ICAB)
UIA Director - Collective Members

Barcelona, Spain