Exercice de la profession | 01.04.2020

The Rule of Law in the Face of COVID-19

The UIA has been gathering information from various countries seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic about the effects of the crisis on the legislature, Court systems and practice of law in those countries. 
We asked our representatives in each country to report briefly on the functioning of the legislature and Court system, the impact on Court hearings (including emergency relief), the enactment of any suspensions to statutes of limitations and how lawyers and their firms are affected by the crisis. 

We present here a summary of responses from the following legal jurisdictions: Italy, Spain and the USA.

1. Legislature

1.1. Is the legislative branch of government in your country (e.g., the Parliament, the Congress, etc.) still functioning and active?

ITALY: Yes, the legislative branch of the Italian government is still working (although, in certain cases, in reduced numbers) and is active in taking the necessary measures to halt the spreading of the virus and to assist the population.

SPAIN: The activity of the Parliament and the Senate has been suspended. They only carry out specific activities, such as the extension of the state of emergency.

USA (New York): The US Congress - the legislature - continues to meet in Washington, DC. The “stimulus” bill was illustration of the fact that it continues to function. However, non-essential aspects of the Congress such as tours for visitors and the ability of citizens to meet a senior or representative  are not permitted. The New York legislature continues to meet. In fact it recently adopted a statute suspending all eviction proceedings for 90 days.

USA (California): Yes, the US and California legislatures are both active and have been enacting legislation responsive to the virus.

1.2. Has there been a state of emergency declared in your country that has limited the activities of the legislature?

ITALY: There is an ongoing emergency crisis, which will last till July 31, 2020, according to the current measures adopted by the Italian Prime Minister. Law Decree n. 19/2020 has clarified the roles of the Italian Government and various Regions.

SPAIN: Yes, there is a state of emergency declared, but it has not limited the legislature activity. 

USA (New York): While neither the President or the New York governor have declared a state of emergency both have encouraged citizens to stay at home and for businesses to close. President Trump recently extended his self isolation order through April 30, 2020.

USA (California): No, while a state of emergency has been declared at both the national and state level, that has imposed no limitations on the activity of the legislature.

2. Court system (you may need to distinguish between civil and criminal courts):

2.1. Are the courts in your country still open and functioning?

ITALY: The Courts are closed till further notice and they are functioning only for urgent legal matters that will be specified in 2.3.

SPAIN: The courts are closed, with the exception of some materies.

USA (New York): Federal and state courts have been physically closed until at least the end of April, 2020. In all probability the closure will last until June. Filings of new civil proceedings will not be permitted until otherwise ordered.

USA (California): Yes.  Although many courthouses have been closed, both federal and state courts are functioning in California.
For example, see https://cand.uscourts.gov/notices/amended-general-order-73-additional-temporary-courthouse-closures-and-consolidation-of-essential-operations/

2.2. Are court hearings being cancelled and/or delayed? Held by telephone/video?

ITALY: Court hearings are being delayed if they are not comprised among the urgent legal matters that are allowed by the Government.

SPAIN: Courts hearings are suspended and interrupted.

USA (New York): Criminal proceedings are being conducted remotely by camera or telephone.

USA (California): Many civil cases and some criminal cases are being postponed for several months.  Others, including appeals, are being heard telephonically and by video.

2.3. Are there special provisions being made for urgent legal matters (eg, defendant in custody, need for immediate injunctive relief)?

ITALY: As regards Civil Courts, the following exceptions are currently in place: hearings in cases under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court, cases relating to alimony or maintenance obligations deriving from family, kinship, marriage or affinity relationships, precautionary proceedings concerning the protection of fundamental human rights, procedures for the adoption of measures regarding protection, support administration, interdiction and incapacitation.
The exceptions for Criminal Courts are the following: hearings to validate arrest or detention, proceedings against detained, interned or subjects in pre-trial detention, proceedings against juvenile offenders and, in general, urgent proceedings.

SPAIN: There are exceptions:
• Criminal: the suspension and interruption shall not apply to habeas corpus proceedings, proceedings entrusted to the guard services, proceedings with detainees, protection orders, urgent prison surveillance proceedings and any precautionary measures relating to violence against women or minors.
• Other jurisdictions: fundamental rights procedures, processing of judicial authorizations or ratifications, adoption of measures or arrangements for the protection of children
• The judge or court may agree to conduct any judicial proceedings that are necessary to avoid irreparable harm to the rights and legitimate interests of the parties to the proceedings.

USA (New York): The US Supreme Court continues to function by hearing arguments but its courtroom has been closed to the public.

USA (California): Yes. Cases with a defendant or custody are moving ahead of others, but jury trials are being postponed which is a serious issue since the cases cannot be otherwise disposed; exceptions for civil cases are rare.

2.4. Have statutes of limitations been suspended either legislatively, by court ruling, or otherwise in your country?

ITALY: The statutes of limitations have been suspended by the law, starting with Law Decree 9/2020.

SPAIN: Yes, they have been suspended or interrupted by Royal Decree.

USA (New York): Statutes of limitation have been temporarily suspended.

USA (California): There have been individual court suspensions of filing deadlines but there have not been legislative or court –ordered suspensions of statutes of limitations in california other than lmiited ones relating to tax and some regulatory requirements.
See https://newsroom.courts.ca.gov/news/court-emergency-orders-6794321

3. Lawyers‘ profession

3.1. Are lawyers still permitted to practise? To go to their offices? To meet clients? Are there any other restrictions on their activities?

ITALY: Lawyers are still permitted to practise, since they are comprised in the list of activities allowed by the Government.
However, they still need to follow all the safety measures required by the Government to avoid spreading the COVID-19.

SPAIN: The lawyer's profession has been declared as "Essential Activity", so we can continue to move to the offices for reasons of necessity (certificate of urgency is required to move).

USA (New York): Lawyers are permitted to practice. However because of the social distancing procedures in place almost everywhere in the US the buildings in which law offices exist have been closed. As a result law practice must be conducted remotely.

USA (California): Yes, lawyers are permitted to practice law. Work rules vary by location; in san francisco, they are not allowed to go to their offices or to meet with clients in person but they are permitted to meet via phone or video. The only restrictions are the generally appicable requirement to shelter at home.

3.2. Are there any government provisions to compensate law firms, lawyers or legal staff for lost business/revenue/profit in your country? 

ITALY: In the present moment, the only compensation provided for by Ministerial Decree dated March 28, 2020, to help lawyers is a “una tantum” compensation amounting to Eur. 600,00 (upon proof of certain income requiremente).

SPAIN: No, it doesn't exist at the moment.

USA (New York): There is no government plan specifically intended to compensate law firms or firm employees because of the effects of the virus. However the recently adopted stimulus bill does provide cash payments to any person whose income is reduced  because of the effects of the virus. That would include law firm employees and possibly lawyers as long as their income is less that $79,000. Also, the bill provides for loans to small businesses which do not have to be paid back as long as the business continues to operate and retains its employees. I am not certain but believe that provision would apply to law firms.

USA (California): There are various state and federal provisions to help small businesses including law firms such as by extending low and no-interest loans and delaying taxes; and under federal law, each person earning under a certain amount will receive approximately $1200; but there are no general plans to compensate law law firms or lawyers for lost profits.
See https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources