Legal action needs resources. Anyone bringing a legal case needs to consider what resources they will need and how they can get them. Although legal action can be expensive and you may not have plenty of resources, it may be possible to raise the money you need. To do this, you need to be determined, creative and know what options are available.
This page is designed to make you aware of:
Taking legal action can be a long process. Think about whether you will be able to get enough funds to cover the costs of legal action. Remember that a common tactic of powerful parties is to try to exhaust the resources of claimants in order to prevent them from securing justice.
In many cases, the most expensive part of taking legal action is paying a lawyer to gather evidence, prepare legal arguments for your case and present your case in court.
If you have to pay a lawyer, make sure that you have a clear agreement on the terms on which he or she will represent you, including information on:
In general , you will also need money for the following:
Sometimes a losing party is required to pay the costs of the winning party. You need to judge the risk of this happening to you (i.e. how strong is your case?), and think about how you would deal with it.
While legal action can be expensive, there are ways you can reduce the costs needed to bring a legal case.
Class actions are cases brought on behalf of large groups of people. They involve a large number of claimants, so resources can be pooled together and costs can be shared. Look for other people who have been affected by the same issue as you and ask if they would like to join you in bringing a legal case. These will often be members of your local community, but can include people from across your country when the issue and abuse is widespread.
Example: The Ogiek Case
In Kenya, a group of 35,000 members of an indigenous community joined together to enforce their land rights in the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.
Other friendly and community-based organisations, groups or individuals may have equipment you can use, such as computers, phones, cameras, and printers. This will save you from having to buy new equipment.
If you have access to the internet, you may be able to use free (or low-cost) programs to do some of the tasks you would otherwise have to pay for. These include:
You may not need a lawyer at all. In some forums, having a lawyer is not necessary or allowed:
Example: Paralegals in Liberia and Sierra Leone
In Liberia and Sierra Leone, it is common for paralegals to be used instead of lawyers for the majority of legal assistance people need. This has worked to lower costs and increase access to justice.
When bringing a complaint outside a court or in an alternative body, you may not need a lawyer. Examples include:
Sometimes, after you make a complaint to these bodies, staff within the body may investigate the issue and take control of your complaint.
In court, it is often possible to represent yourself. Although it will be difficult to win your case without legal representation when the other party has lawyers on its team. However, in some simple cases (e.g. a basic workplace dismissal case), you may be able to represent yourself with the help of an advice centre or supportive organisation.
Sometimes it’s possible to get free legal assistance.
Practical Tip: Gather Evidence Before Approaching a Lawyer
Whether it’s a law enforcement agency, a pro-bono lawyer, an NGO or a lawyer working on a no win-no fee basis, they will usually only take your case forward if there is some evidence to support your claim. They will not invest time into your case if it’s based on speculation or has very little chances of success. For that reason, try to gather some evidence and present your case in a clear way. For more information, see “How Can I Prove My Case?“.
There are a number of ways that are sometimes available to get free legal support:
In most countries, it is the responsibility of law enforcement bodies (e.g. police and prosecutors) to start criminal investigations and take criminal cases to court. In many countries, if you report a suspected crime to the police and there are reasonable prospects that a crime has been committed, the police/prosecutors must take the case forward free of charge. In these cases, you don’t have to pay anything for police and prosecutors to take your case. In some countries, such as Brazil, public prosecutors can also take civil and administrative cases on behalf of people where serious environmental or human rights abuses are involved.
However, in some countries, even if it involves a criminal case, you have to pay a fee to law enforcement agencies (e.g. police and prosecutors) for them to take your case forward.
Before you approach law enforcement agencies to take your case forward, check if the law requires you to pay. If the law says you don’t have to pay a fee to law enforcement agencies, officers are engaging in corruption and breaking the law by asking you for payment (see “Corruption”).
In addition to the police and prosecutors, there may be regulators or agencies that may be able to take cases for free in particular areas. For example:
Pro-bono lawyers are lawyers who do some of their work for free or low-cost. A lot of law firms take on some “pro-bono work”. Sometimes, law firms in different countries will be willing to take cases forward when they are approached with serious ethical issues, such as human rights or environmental abuses.
Here is a video about a law firm from the UK who routinely takes cases forward on behalf of people having their rights abused in the developing world.
Consider approaching law firms in your area with your case and see if they will assist you.
This means that if you lose, you will not have to pay your lawyer. If you win, you will have to give some of your compensation to the lawyers who represented you.
For a lawyer to take your case on this basis, you must usually have a strong case with a high likelihood of success.
Publicly funded or charity-based law centres, citizens advice centres or university legal clinics can be a usual source of support foe people who can’t afford to take legal action on their own.
Example: NULAI (Nigeria)
The Network of University Legal Aid Institutions is an organisation in Nigeria that connects different university legal clinics across the country. They offer services such as legal representation for people in pre-trial detention and women who have suffered from domestic abuse.
NHRIs are independent institutions which have responsibility for the protection, monitoring and promotion of human rights in a country. In some countries, NHRIs can take legal action on behalf of people where serious human rights abuses are involved.
For more details on such organisations, please see: https://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/what-are-nhris/fact-sheet-7-complaint-handling/.
A list of the names of the NHRIs in different countries can be found at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/NHRI/Chart_Status_NIs.pdf
Some non-profit organisations have legal teams, and may be able to provide legal representation and take your case to court on your behalf. Look for organisations whose work is relevant to your case, and ask them for legal assistance in taking your case forward.
If you cannot afford to take legal action and/or cannot substantially minimise your costs, there may be ways to get financial support for taking legal action:
You may be able to rely on the resources of your community, family and friends. These may be limited, but getting local support for your legal action may not only provide resources but also increase people’s commitment to the litigation. In fact, getting local support is often easier, as your community, family and friends may be directly affected or have a personal connection to the issue.
In some countries, it is possible to get state funding or legal aid to take legal action.
If you receive legal aid, the state effectively gives you a limited amount of money with which you can pay a lawyer to represent you in court.
In most countries with legal aid, this will only be available in certain types of cases:
In countries with legal aid, it is usually only available to people who cannot otherwise afford to take legal action. This means that it is generally only available for the poor or people on lower incomes. Also, legal aid will often only be available if your case has a reasonable chance of success and raises a matter of public interest, such as an important legal issue, a serious human rights or environmental issue.
If you think you could be eligible for legal aid, check if there is a legal aid agency in your country. Check what procedure you need to follow to apply for legal aid and, if possible, approach a lawyer who could help you with your application on the basis that they will represent you if your application is successful.
As an alternative to providing you with legal assistance, NGOs, CSOs or trade unions who work in the area your case concerns may be willing to help fund your case. This will usually only be the case if the issue your case involves will further their objectives and raise awareness about the issues they seek to promote.
There may be litigation funds or charitable foundations that help fund legal cases in specific areas that they seek to promote.
Example: Impact Fund
The Impact Fund provides financial support for litigation on a range of social and economic justice issues.
This is an alternative way that is beginning to be used in some countries to fund public interest cases . Crowd funding or public appeals involve appealing to the general public, online or in person, to get donations to help fund your case.
Example: The Crowd Versus
The Crowd Versus helps NGOs/nonprofits raise money for targeted legal actions against multinationals that make their profits at the expense of people and nature. They seek to empower justice and hold irresponsible companies accountable.
Managing your finances effectively is essential. This can be vital in keeping costs down and ensuring you can use your resources to bring an effective legal case.
Managing your money involves:
A group which is thought to have funds may be pressured to spend them on improper purposes (e.g. bribes to corrupt officials or judges, or “protection” money). Be careful who you disclose your financial situation to.
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