Community-driven litigation

Strategic litigation — litigation that brings about structural change in regulation, policy, or practice — is more than filing a court case and hoping for the best. By carefully coordinating action on different fronts, including campaigning and generating public debate, litigation becomes an important catalyst in pushing causes forward which otherwise see little progress or attention. 

While the courts are powerful agents for change, marginalised communities are often unable to leverage the full potential of litigation for their causes and campaigns. Legal fees are high, processes are complex, and the legal profession continues to inadequately reflect our society. 

When litigation is used, it often does not serve communities or centre their needs. An intersectional approach is lacking, and there often is an uneven power dynamic between communities and those doing the legal work. This means that litigation tends to be closed off to and not driven by the communities that could use it the most. For example, current climate litigation does not address the needs of marginalised groups, and the marriage equality movement has been critiqued for privileging whiteness and subordinating non-normative relationships. 

Systemic Justice believes that communities should be leading on the litigation campaigns that concern them, and be able to access justice on their own terms. This is more than strategic litigation as we know it, or even “community-centred” litigation: Systemic Justice works with a model of community-driven litigation. 

How we work

We litigate with our partners to achieve change by leveraging the power of the courts. Instead of having lawyers take over and set the agenda, we are jointly developing community-driven litigation campaigns to bring about structural change on issues of racial, social, and economic justice. In this process communities’ perspective and lived experience drive the work. 

Recognising that structural change takes time, we enter into long-term partnerships and develop strategies that tackle root causes rather than merely addressing the symptoms of unjust and unequal power structures. When exploring a partnership, we will jointly discuss the following questions: 

  1. What is the bigger change the community wants to see? 
  2. Can strategic litigation provide a positive contribution to their campaign for change? 
  3. If so, what would a litigation strategy look like? 
If we decide to move forward together, we will jointly design the strategy for the litigation campaign. We will work together closely as the effort unfolds, in which Systemic Justice will take care of the legal aspects of the campaign.


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