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A PIL case may be brought by one person or one organisation, or by a group of individuals and/or organisations. If you are thinking of bringing your case together with others, there are a number of things that you need to think about carefully.
These are the questions you need to ask.
Q. Does everyone in your group have the right to bring the case?
There are situations in which only organisations and not individual persons will be able to bring a case. For example, it may be hard for one or two disabled persons to bring a case on behalf of disabled people in general, but it may be possible for an organisation of disabled people to do so.
Q. Does everyone in the group have compatible objectives and interests?
If some members of the group want to fight the case to the end for reasons of principle, and others just want compensation and will accept a payment to end the case without a ruling, this may create problems down the line.
Q. Can everyone in the group make the necessary commitment?
Will everyone be able to commit the necessary financial and time resources to the case for its full duration?
Q. Is everyone in the group willing to take the necessary risks?
Will they be able to deal with counter-attacks by the party against which the case is being brought? Risk appetite may depend a lot on the financial circumstances, constituency, and vulnerability of each member of the group.
Bringing a legal case with others is usually a major commitment which means working closely together over a long period of time.
It also often means taking risks together. It is therefore crucial that the members of the group know each other well enough and that there is a high level of trust among them.
The ground rules for cooperation among the members of the group bringing the case should be agreed clearly beforehand. The rules should cover issues such as:
If there are multiple lawyers and representatives arguing the case, group dynamics can become quite complicated. It is important to think about the implications beforehand.
An illustrative case study
The following fictional case study illustrates what can go wrong.
Imagine that a gold mine is causing pollution of a river. Local farmers are unable to use the water to irrigate their land. Fishermen are unable to fish. The local village is unable to get clean water from its wells, which have been polluted too.
The local village council (Claimant 1), a fisherman (Claimant 2), a farmer (Claimant 3) and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for a clean environment decide to bring a case together against the mine.
Claimant 1 hires a lawyer (legal representative); Claimants 2 and 3 decide to split the costs and hire a second lawyer; and the NGO has a lawyer on staff who can represent its interests. See the chart below.
Some examples of tensions that could arise in this group are:
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