This Public Interest Lawyering Hub aims to radically redefine and reshape the discourse of public interest lawyering in India. At CLPR, one of our core areas of work is how the law and legal process can be used effectively in the public interest for the enforcement of social rights.
In India, any mention of public interest lawyering is assumed to be about “Public Interest Litigation” or “PIL”. PIL was an innovation initiated in India by the activist lawyers, academics and judges of the Supreme Court in the late seventies and early eighties to enable the most marginalized communities to gain access to the High Courts and the Supreme Court by expanding the traditional rules of public law standing. While PILs have been successful in drawing public and judicial attention to serious issues, today more than 30 years later, it faces formidable challenges.
As Galanter and Krishnan point out, the PIL is limited by an inability to resolve disputed questions of fact; weakness in delivering concrete remedies and monitoring performance; reliance on generalist volunteers with no organizational staying power; and dissociation from the organization and the priorities of the disadvantaged. Recent empirical research shows that PILs make up only 1% of the case docket in the Supreme Court of India.
Public interest lawyering must transcend the current model – along with strengthening PILs, other innovative methods of lawyering in the public interest need to be explored and must embrace a wide array of techniques and approaches of using the law for transformative social change.
Public interest lawyering strategies around the world have advanced from the PIL or class action litigation to the selection and use of test cases, the role of amicus briefs, intervener applications, suits for damages and injunctive relief; pre-legislative drafting; constitutional litigation, the use of the ordinary civil courts to secure effective relief; civil liberties litigation, litigation and representation before special tribunals and authorities such as the consumer courts and the Commissioner for Disabilities, coalition litigation; the use of public advocacy and media and the provision of pro bono legal services which need to be redeveloped in our present context.
This PIL Hub will aim to contain an archive of academic writing on rights based lawyering, judgments, case studies and materials, petition formats and resource materials that will be of relevance to public interest lawyers, activists, students and academics. We also aim to develop an online virtual course on public interest lawyering for law students, social activists and lawyers to consolidate and enrich the knowledge and practice of public interest lawyering.