At the Public Interest Law Unit we are lawyers and campaigners who use law to help individuals win their case. However, using that case to change the law, or practice for a wide a group as possible is our goal. Even better that the case is popularised amongst many people, so not only is the law and rights better known but it can be used widely. We see strategic litigation as giving a voice to the voiceless for working class communities and marginalised groups in particular. At its heart strategic litigation must have a strong, bold and wide campaign.
For one of the best explanations of what strategic litigation is, this one from the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre sums it up well:
“Litigation means taking cases to court. Strategic litigation is a method that can bring about significant changes in the law, practice or public awareness via taking carefully-selected cases to court. The clients involved in strategic litigation have been victims of [wrongs] that are suffered by many other people. In this way, strategic litigation focuses on an individual case in order to bring about social change”
In our minds strategic litigation can be conducted in any court, local or national, or before international judicial and quasi-judicial bodies. Strategic Litigation has been used for many years to advance many civil, political and socio-economic rights. Indeed lawyers from the Public Interest Law Unit brought the case of Tigere to court which had a wider and very significant impact for many other young people who had been excluded from accessing student financial support because of their immigration status.
Most recently in the case of Gureckis and others we overturned a Home Office policy that had effectively detained and removed street homeless EEA migrants. As part of that case we worked with campaigners from North East London Migrant Action to set up a weekly advice sessions and build a wide broad based campaign to not only ensure that those affected were aware of their rights, but those who had not yet been directly affected, but would better know their rights as a result. Our strategic litigation also seeks to expose the unlawful nature of the policy as a whole, and to challenge policy makers directly.
The aim in much of our casework is not just simply winning legal arguments in court – essential though that is – we seek to use our legal case to create awareness and publicise the cause for which the litigation itself is mobilised, encouraging public debate, set important precedents, achieve change for people in similar situations, spark policy changes and changes in the law. Not much to ask really!
The public interest law movement is international – we want to play our small role in that movement.