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How Can I Get Support?

Legal action can be an effective way to secure justice, but bringing an effective legal case can be difficult. It requires time, resources and creativity. To overcome these difficulties, it is often important to get support.

1

What Support Could I Get?


(a) Financial Support


Legal cases can be expensive. You may need financial support to bring legal action action. Our page “How Can I Finance my Action?” gives you tips on how to get financial support.


(b) Legal Support


For someone who is not trained in the law, bringing a legal case can be confusing. In most cases, you will need legal assistance to do the following:

 

(i) Deciding whether legal action is right for you

You can find information about the advantages and disadvantages of taking legal action in “Is Legal Action Right for Me?”. However, whether legal action is right for you will depend on your exact circumstances. It is helpful to get independent advice when making this decision. Advice from someone who can talk you through the options that are available and how they can secure justice in your circumstances.

 

(ii) Finding out if you can bring a legal case and who you can bring it against

Rules concerning who has the right to bring legal cases are often complex and will depend on the country you are in, as well as the type of case you are bringing (see “Who Can Take Legal Action?”). Legal assistance is necessary in finding out if you can take legal action.

There are often a range of different people and organisations who you can bring legal action against (see “Who Can I Sue?”). This can create confusion. When deciding who you can bring action against, and who is the best target for your case, getting advice is key.

 

(iii) Deciding where you should bring your case

There are a range of different (sometimes unexpected) places you can bring your complaint, ranging from national courts to international bodies (see “Where Can I Take Legal Action?”). To help you decide where to take your case, it is helpful to get advice from someone with knowledge of the different bodies, the strengths/weaknesses of each, and their suitability for your case.

 

(iv) Arguing your case

The other side will usually have lawyers arguing against your case, so it is unwise to represent yourself. You will usually need legal representation to prove your case in court and help you with the following;

  • Showing that there has been a breach of your rights.
  • Showing that the defendant was responsible for this breach.
  • Arguing for a remedy to resolve the breach.

While this guide can give you an indication of whether you have a good case and what you need to do to prove it, you will need further assistance to bring an action in court.


(c) Practical Support


You may need support with these practical issues:

 

(i) Organising a group

When your case involves an issue that affects many people, it can be useful to bring a “class action” (sometimes called a “group action”), i.e. a legal case that is brought on behalf of a group. Bringing a case as a group can be important when facing a powerful opponent.

It can be difficult to bring together and organise a group on your own. Therefore, it can be useful to get support to:

  • Find people who are affected by the issue and want to be part of a class action.
  • Manage the group once it has been created.
  • Find agreement on key issues such as where the action will be brought and what remedy will be sought.
  • Resolve conflicts within the group when disagreements arise.

For further information, see «How do I Manage a Group?»

 

(ii) Raising awareness

Raising awareness and public support for your legal case (and the issue it concerns) can help ensure there is a fair case, protect you from intimidation, and help you get financial or legal support. Raising awareness could even partly achieve your objectives if the case fails, by creating some accountability about the defendant’s actions.

Raising awareness can be difficult. Try and get support from people who have a wide network and media connections. They can help you:

  • Develop a media strategy, finding journalists who may be interested in your case, drawing their attention to it, and providing them with the materials they need to cover it (e.g. a summary of your complaint, information on court hearing dates, press releases on key developments etc).
  • Get high-profile individuals/organisations to speak out in support of your case.

For more information, see “Campaigning”.

 

(iii) Gathering evidence

Gathering enough quality evidence to base your case on can be difficult. It is important to get support from people/organisations who know how to gather evidence. Support can include:

  • Getting legal advice on what type of evidence is needed to prove your case.
  • Getting help with investigations and finding out information about the defendant.
  • Getting forensic teams to go and collect evidence at the area where the issue happened.
  • Calling expert witnesses who can give credibility to your case, such as a scientist or human rights expert specialised in the issue.
  • Helping to make requests for information which can help you prove your case (see “Access to Information”).

For more information, see “How Can I Prove my Case?

 

(iv) Security issues

When bringing your legal case, you may face intimidation, threats, violence and other forms of hostility from the opposing party or other people/companies who don’t want you to enforce your rights. If this happens, there are measures you can take and support you can get to help you deal with security issues (see “How Do I Protect my Information?” and “How do I Deal with Security?

2

Who Can Support Me?

You could get support from the following sources:


(a) Local Community Groups/Individuals


Your local community is a good place to start looking for support. Groups in and members of your community will often have direct knowledge of the issue, be affected by the problem, or have a personal connection with your loss. This means they are often the most likely people to give financial, legal, and practical support.

Groups and individuals can include:

  • Family and friends
  • Your local religious group/leaders
  • Influential members of the community, such as elders or local politicians
  • Local lawyers who are supportive of the cause and may be able to help at low-cost or pro-bono (for free)

A community mobilised around an issue can be a powerful tool to effect change and secure justice.

Example: Fadeyeva v Russia
In Russia, residents of a town affected by the pollution of Russia’s biggest Iron smelting company banded together to secure compensation and stop the pollution. Although failing to get a ruling in Russian courts, they successfully brought their case to the European Court on Human Rights.


(b) Civil Society Organisations


Civil society organisations are national groups which represent issues of public interest (e.g. environmental protection or workers’ rights). Civil society organisations can provide useful support when bringing a legal case as they tend to have detailed knowledge of the area they represent, and resources with which they can support your action.

Civil society organisations include:

  • Trade Unions
  • Environmental protection groups
  • National human rights organisations
  • Law clinics and advice centres

Example: SERAC Nigeria
A Nigerian civil society organisation called the “Social and Economic Rights Action Center” have successfully supported legal cases defending environmental and human rights in Nigeria. For example, with the support of SERAC, thousands across the Niger Delta succeeded in holding the Nigerian government and big oil companies accountable for their environmental pollution and human rights abuses.

The best organisations to approach will depend on the issue your case concerns. While some civil society organisations will offer general support, others are limited to their area.


(c) Government Offices and Public Bodies


Depending on what country you are in, there may be a public body (government run or funded institution) which can offer you support with your legal case. Public bodies can have significant resources and mandates to help enforce the law and protect people’s rights generally, or on a specific issue. This may even be the case if your case is being brought against the government, as some public bodies operate independently of the government in charge.

Examples of public bodies that could help include:

  • The police or prosecution service, who can investigate and bring criminal cases forward (and sometimes other types of cases too).
  • Public defenders and legal services, who can bring cases forward if you don’t have enough resources and the case involves a matter of public interest.
  • Regulatory bodies, who are charged with monitoring misconduct in a certain area (e.g. the mining industry).
  • Government ministries who, if the issue involves their area, may offer support or actually bring the case.
  • National human rights institutions (sometimes called human rights commissions or the ombudsman) which are funded by the government to monitor and protect human rights in their country.
  • Anti-corruption agencies, who investigate and bring cases relating to corruption.

Example: South African Human Rights Commission’s Legal Services Unit
The South African Human Rights Commission’s Legal Services Unit works to enforce human rights provisions in the South African constitution. They have supported several cases, defending education, housing rights and much more.


(d) International Non-Governmental Organisations


International NGOs are non-profit organisations which are independent of government, and advocate for causes such as human rights and environmental protection. NGOs are often big organisations with a lot of resources. If your case concerns an issue which they are advocating for, they may want to give you financial, practical, and legal support.

Practical Tip
Find out if there are any NGOs who work on issues like yours, and approach them asking for advice and support. Even if they can’t support you directly, they have big networks and may be able to direct you to another organisation which can help.

Examples of NGOs include:

  • General human rights groups, e.g. Amnesty International and Oxfam
  • Specialist organisations focusing on a single issue, e.g. Transparency International (an anti-corruption organisation)
  • Environmental groups, e.g. Greenpeace or EarthRights
  • Humanitarian organisations, e.g. The Red Cross

Example: Minority Rights Group
Minority Rights Group, an international NGO fighting discrimination and protecting minorities from human rights abuses, has successfully, supported, fought and won cases on behalf of minority groups across the world. Notably, they recently prevented the removal of 35,000 indigenous people from their land in Kenya.


(e) Regional and International Organisations


International organisations are organisations that countries are members of, and have been created to deal with certain (sometimes very broad) issues. Generally, they have a lot of resources and may be able to support your legal case if it is connected to an area of their work.

 

(i) The United Nations

Every country is a member of the UN, making it the world’s biggest international organisation. The UN deals with issues ranging from peace/security, human rights, environment, public health, and humanitarian aid.

Within the UN there are a range of different bodies dealing with specific areas, including:

  • OHCHR: The main body in the UN for the protection of human rights. This includes the UN Human Rights Council and Special Rapporteurs on specific issues such as business and human rights.
  • UNHCR: The main body in the UN for the protection of refugee rights.
  • IOM: A UN agency for protecting migrants’ rights.
  • ILO: The main UN agency on protecting workers’ rights.

Find the body most relevant to your issue and research whether they could support you in some way.

Example: The UNHCR
The UNHCR work extensively around the work supporting asylum seekers in the legal process of obtaining refugee status. This includes advising those in need, providing evidence, and raising awareness about cases.

 

(ii) Other International Organisations

Beyond the UN, there are a variety of different international organisations which work in specific areas or with specific groups of countries. If your issue is related to the organisation’s area of work or happened in the region they operate in, they may be able to help you.

Often, the most helpful international organisations will be regional organisations. These organisations cover a wide range of areas in their geographic area and often have specific bodies that focus on human rights and environmental issues. These bodies include:

Example: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Legal Assistance Fund
In the OAS system, there is a legal assistance fund to help people without enough finances to bring cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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