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How Can I Finance my Action?

Litigation needs resources. Anyone bringing a PIL case needs to consider what resources they will need and how they can get them.

Although PIL can be expensive and you may not have plenty of resources, do not let this discourage you. Effective PIL cases can be brought by determined people with no money of their own, but who have raised the money needed for their action.

This section is designed to make you aware of;

  • What level of resources you may need.
  • What possibilities there are to reduce the costs of PIL.
  • What possibilities there are for you to get support to finance your action.

What do You Need Money for?

Litigation can be a long process. Think about whether you will be able to get enough funds to cover the costs of PIL.

  • Remember that a common tactic of powerful parties is to try to exhaust the resources of claimants, to prevent them from securing justice.

You will need money for the following:

a) As a claimant, bringing a PIL case, you will need money to;

  • Travel to meetings and court hearings.
  • Prepare, print/copy, and send documents.
  • Get access to computers, cameras or phones to research and collect/record evidence.
  • Translation documents into different languages.
  • Pay court and tribunal fees. Sometimes you have to pay a certain amount of money to bring your case to court.


b) In some countries, if you are bringing 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.

  • In many other countries, you don’t have to pay anything for police and prosecutors to take your case.

Practical Tip
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”).


c) To pay your lawyers.

You will most likely need funds to pay for legal representation.

  • Even if you win your case, the other side may appeal, and you may need to pay your lawyer during this appeal too.
  • There are ways to minimise the cost of lawyers (see below).


d) To get other people involved.

You may need other people to support you to prove your case . These may include expert advisers and witnesses such as scientists or economists, who will often need paid.


e) To pay “adverse costs orders”.

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.
  • If you have no funds, you may not be forced to pay anything to an opponent.
  • In some places, claimants are protected against adverse cost orders, through mechanisms such as “Protective Costs Orders”.

How to Minimize Costs

While litigation can be expensive, there are ways you can reduce the costs needed to bring a PIL case.

Here are some ideas:

a) Bring a class or group action

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 PIL 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.

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.


b) Use the Facilities of Others

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.


c) Use the Web

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;

  • Preparing and sending documents
  • Translating text
  • Researching your case

d) You May Not Need a Lawyer

You may not need a lawyer at all. In some forums, having a lawyer is not necessary or even allowed;

  • In some community courts, legal representation is prohibited.
  • In some countries, a paralegal or legal adviser (instead of a lawyer) may be able to take your case. The costs of hiring a paralegal are much lower.


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;

  • National Human Rights Commissions and Ombudsman’s Offices
  • Government regulatory bodies
  • International human rights bodies and complaint mechanisms (e.g. the Human Rights Council)

In court, it is often possible to represent yourself. Although it will be very difficult to win your case without legal representation when the other party has lawyers on its defence team.


e) Get Free Legal Assistance

If you need a lawyer, it may be possible to avoid having to pay for a lawyer.

One of the following options may be able to take your case forward free of charge;

i) Use pro-bono lawyers

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”.

  • Approach law firms in your area with your case and see if they will assist you.
  • Sometimes, certain law firms in different countries can take cases forward when they are approached with serious ethical issues, such as human rights abuse.


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.

ii) Lawyers acting on a “no win, no fee” basis

This means that if you lose, you will not have to pay your lawyer. If you win, they will get some of the compensation. Similar schemes such as conditional fee agreements or fee waivers, also exist.

  • For a lawyer to take your case on this basis, you must have a strong case with a high likelihood of success.


iii) Government funded or other advice centres

  • Examples include law centres, advice centres or university legal clinics.


iv) Public officials or bodies

Public bodies, such as an Ombudsman or human rights commission, may be able to take your case forward if it raises serious issues within their area of work.

  • For example, a human rights commission could take a case involving the breach of human rights that are protected in the constitution.


v) Public offices or government departments on a specific issue may take your case if it raises an issue within their area of work

For example, a government agency concerning the environment may take a case involving environmental rights.


vi) International NGOs or national civil society organisations

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 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;

  • Retainer fees – an upfront initial fee you may have to pay a lawyer for representing you.
  • Hourly rates – how much a lawyer will charge you for every hour they work on your case.
  • Whether travelling time and other expenses is chargeable to you.
  • When the lawyer expects to be paid (some will agree to delay payment, others may want funds on account in advance or regular payments).

Similarly, while it is often necessary to use expert witnesses (and expert evidence preparation can be costly), some experts will provide support for free or at reduced rates for PIL cases.


How Can You Obtain Financing?

You may be able to rely on your own resources, and 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.
  • 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 places, foreign funding, whether for litigation or for the organisations supporting it, is prohibited.

But, if local resources are not enough to bring your PIL case, other possible sources of funds include:

  • Other people, organisations, or interest groups sharing the objectives of your claim
  • Non-governmental organisations or civil society organisations

See “How Can I Get Support?” for further information on NGOs and civil society organisations.

  • Litigation funds.
    – An example is Impact Fund: support for litigation for social and economic justice).
  • State funding or legal aid for qualifying cases and claimants.
    – Some countries have funds for people without money of their own to take cases forward.
    – Often these will only be available if your case has a reasonable chance of success and raises a matter of public interest.
  • Crowd funding or public appeal.
    – Involves appealing to the general public, on line or in person, to get donations to help fund your case.
    – For example: Grrowd: justice powered by the crowd.
  • It may be possible to borrow money but this carries its own risks.

How to Manage Money

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 PIL case.

Managing your money involves;

  • Keeping records, invoices, receipts, and accounts showing what has come in and on what it has been spent.
  • Making this process transparent within your group (see “How do I Manage my Group?”).

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).

Strategies may need to be devised to mitigate this risk.

Be careful who you disclose your financial situation to.

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