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Law as a Social Determinant in the Pandemic

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Today’s time comes with it an intricate narrative—that which requires not only the concept of adaptability but the ability to find ways in order to stay afloat.

The recent health crisis has crippled not only several economies and professions related to it but has also taken a lot of lives in the process. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the worst occurrences in modern times. Accordingly, the study and practice of law are not spared from the same.

It is without a doubt that the study and practice of law have taken a free fall since we first experienced the effects of the crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. A sudden shift towards online platforms was necessarily implemented. Changes with respect to communication and coordination hampered several pending proceedings. Law schools and their respective professors and students needed to maximize online platforms so as to continue teaching and learning the law in a grand manner.

However we look at our current plight today, we are having a hard time as to how to embrace the new normal and move towards a better place. The practice and study of law which we once thought of as an indestructible pillar of tradition has been forced to play a different game and eventually cope with the changes brought about by the pandemic.

For some, change is necessary. For some, change is inevitable. For some, change is for the better. But for all the current and future members of the legal profession, change must be anchored on the very foundation on why the law was built in the first place—to protect the people and make sure that they are treated equally among their peers.

While the proceedings may have changed and the means to conduct the same have been altered in order to cope with the new normal, one must remember that the purpose of the law remains the same—as practitioners and students of our chosen profession, we must continue to be instruments of hope, justice, and integrity amidst this time of loss and lockdowns.

Contrary to popular opinion in today’s time, the law indeed plays a vital role in solving and eventually eradicating the multi-faceted problem of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health, as provided for by international law, not only means the absence of disease or infirmity. Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. The health of all people is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent on the fullest co-operation of individuals and States. Governments have a responsibility for the health of their people which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.[1]

The social determinants of health are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems.[2]

In a simpler sense, law plays a vital role as a social determinant of health which creates a clearer picture of what responsibility rests upon the shoulders of members of the legal profession. Different state actors are necessary in order to achieve social justice for all. There is a need for a concrete policy-making body that should address both short-term and long-term problems related to public health. There is a need for enforcement of various laws which would protect the constitutionally mandated rights of every person within our jurisdiction. There is a need for a coordinated and well-ran government in order to ensure that liberty and prosperity would eventually be attained by every citizen seeking refuge in the powers of the public sector. All these are necessary circumstances that play within the field of law.

The COVID-19 crisis is a brutal reminder of the importance of ensuring lasting progress with respect to social rights enjoyment, particularly through the development of universal public health services. The pandemic shows in practical terms the indivisibility of human rights.[3] It is essential that the need to avoid enduring harm to rule of law principles and fundamental freedoms be taken into consideration. This will help to avoid aggravating social tensions, grievances, and underlying causes of conflict. Preventing conflict is perhaps an imperative now more than ever, as prospects for large-scale investment in conflict management and post-conflict recovery fall victim to scarce resources.[4]

And in this day and age, we should ask ourselves—how do we uphold the rule of law? How do we ensure that the people continue to enjoy the rights they are entitled to as provided for by both international and domestic laws?

In order to uphold the rule of law, we must look into our roles in doing such feat. As students, practitioners, and future members of the legal profession, we are obliged to see to it that we follow certain rules and eventually inform the people of their respective rights and how to enforce them.

Information dissemination is key. In this day and age of digital platforms, it is easier to connect to people and inform them of certain legal matters related to the enforcement of their rights. Students and practitioners need to find time in order to lend a hand to those who have less in life, trying to find legal solutions which will solve their respective legal problems in this time of a pandemic.

Imparting legal education is also a must. While the practice and the study of law may only be engaged in by chosen students and practitioners, legal knowledge is for everyone’s pleasure. To learn the law and the rights accorded by the same is a necessary foundation in order to ensure that people know what rights they have and what they should do in times these rights are violated.

Lastly, students and practitioners should remember their purpose on why they pursued law in the first place in order to help other people. Members and future brothers and sisters of the legal profession should be reminded that the core principles of being a lawyer include helping one another in achieving justice in whatever form.

In times of loss, people hailing from the legal profession should learn how to avoid further defeats. They should learn how to help others in order to gain more not only in life but also in law. In times of several lockdowns, students and practitioners of the law should learn how to teach people how to be free from certain aspects. While restraint is necessary for today’s crisis, fundamental freedoms should be upheld nonetheless.

The rule of law can only be achieved by knowing and eventually succumbing to our respective roles. Our role in upholding the rule of law is necessary in order to achieve liberty, prosperity, and social justice. More proactive participation will not only help state actors attain a consistent response in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also help private individuals recover from a free fall that eventually led to hitting rock-bottom.

We must be reminded that times of loss and lockdowns brought by the COVID-19 pandemic will come and go, but acts directed towards upholding the rule of law will remain forever.

[1] Constitution of the World Health Organization, adopted by the International Health Conference held in New York from 19 June to 22 July 1946, signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Off. Rec. Wld Hlth Org., 2, 100), and entered into force on 7 April 1948. [2] Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Volume 89, Number 10, October 2011, 701-776, Special theme: Social Determinants of Health, available at [3] Palmisano, Giuseppe, “Social Rights in the time of pandemic,” available at [4] Zouev, Alexander, “COVID-19 and the Rule of Law,” available at


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