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Key Text Pursuing the Public Interest: A Handbook for Legal Professionals and Activists

Author: E Rekosh, K Buchko, V Terzieva
Date: 2001
Size: 342 pages (4.1 MB)

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The role of the law in protecting social rights in the transitional societies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is still being defined. Numerous groups have formed to defend various kinds of public interest using the law, and most have faced similar kinds of hurdle. This book from Columbia University's Public Interest Law Initiative assembles their experiences and offers a guide to those starting new initiatives.

The communist past and post-communist present of these societies defines the nature of public interest law there. Communist identification of the state with the people means that it is only recently that vocabulary has emerged to distinguish between 'public' and 'state' interest. The advancement and protection of civil and social rights needs urgent attention, but civil society institutions to address such issues were until recently virtually non-existent. What lessons can be learned from Western experience of rights-based advocacy? How can the experiences of recently-established public interest law (PIL) organisations in Eastern Europe be shared to assist other new groups?

This book is a practical guide for lawyers and activists working in this area. It is organised functionally, with chapters dedicated to processes such as setting up a PIL organisation, campaigning, bringing strategic lawsuits, or educating the public and future lawyers. Each chapter is illustrated with case studies and hypothetical cases. Key issues covered by the book include:

  • Setting up: organisational structure, governance, case selection and client relations, management of people and finance, fundraising, donor relations and public accountability.
  • Monitoring: fact-finding may be required prior to initiating a campaign against rights abuses. Emphasis is laid on having a clear purpose and setting goals, identifying key actors, and selecting appropriate research tools.
  • Strategic litigation: how to select and develop a test case with the aim of reforming unjust legal structures; using international human rights systems such as those of the European and UN.
  • Campaigning: bringing pressure for reform to bear, via public awareness-raising and lobbying of legislatures; campaign strategies and coalition-building.
  • Access to justice amongst marginalised groups is a central concern of PIL; the legal aid systems of various countries are explored, as well as strategies for strengthening and reforming inadequate systems.
  • Educational issues: how best to train new graduate lawyers in real-world legal practice (clinical legal education); the value and methods of raising awareness of rights, law and democracy in the general public.

This book is aimed at PI lawyers and activists rather than government staff, but as a compendium of real-world experiences, it may be a useful reference in some situations:

  • Assessing the viability and quality of potential PIL initiatives in the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe.
  • Considering strategies to strengthen and develop justice: alongside access to justice and political empowerment of individuals and groups, PIL can be an instrument of law reform.
  • Understanding European and UN law: brief explanations are given of the various treaties and mechanisms for protecting human rights, along with strategies for strengthening, implementing or enforcing them.
  • Developing 'Street Law' initiatives: educating non-lawyers about the law. They vary from seminars to schemes in which essential legal knowledge is printed on wallet-sized cards to help people in their encounters with the law.

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Source: Rekosh, E., Buchko, K.A., Terzieva, V. (Eds.), 2001, 'Pursuing the Public Interest: A Handbook for Legal Professionals and Activists', Columbia Law School, New York.
Author: Public Interest Law Initiative,