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Legal Action for Social Justice

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.

  • This includes key legal and practical issues that you have to think about before deciding to go to court.

But this is not a substitute for legal advice.

  • This Guide is general in scope. It looks at examples of laws and cases in different countries, outlines legal developments, and provides general tips on legal strategy.
  • To bring a case, you have to know the law and legal system in your country.

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.

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How Can You Take Litigation?

What you need to do to take successful legal action will depend on:

  • The legal system in your country;
  • The law or laws your case is based on;
  • The court you are bringing your case to; and
  • The facts of your case.

But there are some general requirements that apply to most countries.

 

General Requirements to Take Successful Legal Action

  1. There has to be a relevant law that relates to the facts of your case and you can argue has been broken

  2. You must have the right to take legal action

  3. There must be an appropriate defendant for you to take legal action against

  4. You must have evidence to prove your case (i.e. evidence that supports your legal argument)

  5. There must be an appropriate court where you can take your case

  6. You must follow the procedure of the court that is hearing your case

  7. You must define the remedy you want if you win

  8. 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.

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What Is Access to Justice?

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:

  • Not having legal support to take your case to court. For example, you may not be able to get assistance from a lawyer or an organisation that can help;
  • Not being able to finance your action. Legal action can be expensive. This can prevent a lot of people from going to court; and
  • Threats to your security from the defendant or other people or groups who don’t want you to enforce your rights.

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.

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What Alternatives Are There to Going to Court?

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:

  • You could negotiate with the other side before taking a case or while you are taking a case in order to reach a settlement. A good understanding of the law and the possibility to take litigation is often key to strengthening your negotiating position;
  • You could take a non-judicial complaint, to a body outside of court. This could be a complaint to a police ombudsman or an internal grievance procedure in a multinational corporation. While these are not examples of litigation, a good understanding of the law will strengthen your complaint and you may use court as a backup if you are not happy with the outcome of a complaint;
  • You could take a complaint to an international accountability mechanism, such as a regional human rights court, OECD national contact point or United Nations human rights body; or
  • You could use a campaign or other advocacy to raise awareness about an issue.

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.

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Action4Justice is a group of NGO’s united to support public interest litigation worldwide as a means to advance social justice.

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