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Legal action for social justice means action that uses law to protect human rights, the environment and other public interests. The Going to Court: Q & A is designed to give you tips and guidance on how you can do just that.
The Going to Court: Q & A provides an introduction into legal action and takes you through a series of key questions that you will need to ask yourself if you want to take successful legal action in court.
But this is not a substitute for legal advice.
If, after reading the Guide, you want to explore the possibility of taking climate litigation further, seek a lawyer or an organisation that could help you develop your case.
A key form of legal action is litigation. Litigation is the process of bringing an action in court to enforce a law or a right. For example:
When litigation is taken in to protect human rights, the environment or another good cause, it can be called “public interest litigation”. For example, public interest litigation could ask the court to:
The “Claimant“ or "Plaintiff" is the party that brings the claim. The “Defendant“ is the party which is defending the legal claim.
The Claimant will argue the Defendant has committed a legal wrong The Defendant will argue that they have not committed a legal wrong
The evidence supports the legal argument and is used to persuade the court that their complaint or defence is correct
A court is a formal body that can decide legal disputes. This can be a regional, national, or an international court, or a tribunal or another type of less formal dispute settlement body.
The court will consider the arguments and decide which side it believes is correct under the law. It will then make a decision or judgment.
After first hearing (the first time the court heard the case) the decision can generally be appealed in a higher court.
After any appeals have been decided, the successful Claimant will then seek to enforce this judgment against the other side.
The person who starts the litigation (the Claimant) will ask the court for a particular solution to his/her problem. This is called the ‘remedy’.
The remedy requested will vary from case to case and from court to court. For example, you might ask a court:
If you win your case, the court could decide:
For further information, see “What Remedies Are Available?”
What you need to do to take successful legal action will depend on:
But there are some general requirements that apply to most countries.
There has to be a relevant law that relates to the facts of your case and you can argue has been broken
You must have the right to take legal action
There must be an appropriate defendant for you to take legal action against
You must have evidence to prove your case (i.e. evidence that supports your legal argument)
There must be an appropriate court where you can take your case
You must follow the procedure of the court that is hearing your case
You must define the remedy you want if you win
If you win, you must ensure that the decision is enforced
This Guide will give you tips and guidance on how you met these requirements in your case.
Access to justice is the ability for people to enforce their rights and seek a remedy through legal action in practice. This relates to the legal and practical ability of someone to take legal action.
Although there is a law you think has been broken and you have a legal right to bring a case to court, there can also be practical barriers outside the law that could make bringing legal action difficult, impossible or dangerous. Examples of practical barriers to access justice include:
These issues can impact your access to justice. Before taking legal action, it’s important to think about what issues may impact access to justice in your case. Later in the Guide, there will be some tips and guidance on different practical ways to overcome these practical barriers to access justice.
Legal action is broader than just litigation. There are different ways that the law can be used to protect your rights and the environment. For example:
Later in this Guide, more information will be provided on some of these alternatives. The key thing to know for now is that litigation is not the only way you can enforce your rights.
Before taking a case to court, it’s important to think through what your options are and decide if litigation is right for you.