From The Optimist Magazine
In recent years, crowdfunding has become a popular tool to fund projects and interests shared by groups of people. It is particularly common in arts and culture, leaving it up to the audience to determine what gets done and what they want to see.
A British attorney has now seen the potential of such websites to help those seeking justice. “Successive governments have made it harder in this country to access the courts,” says Julia Salasky, founder of CrowdJustice, a platform where people can financially support legal cases they find relevant. The former UN lawyer says cuts to legal aid and changes in regulations have resulted in the exclusion of some citizens from the British justice system.
Salasky witnessed it firsthand when she worked at a legal aid center: “It was certainly emotionally distressing to see the difficulties that vulnerable people face when they encounter a justice system that is simply unaffordable.”
Through her website, people can come together and combine resources to fight legal issues that are close to their hearts, “so that the battle between David and Goliath becomes one of many Davids against Goliath.” Cases are funded only if a financial goal is fully met, with the website retaining a 5 percent fee. Raised funds go to an account managed by the lawyer in charge of the case. Unused funds are donated to the Access to Justice Foundation.
Legal crowdfunding websites aren’t particularly new, with a few examples, such as Crowd Defend and Funded Justice, claiming some success in the U.S. But there are small differences. Most of these projects focus on raising money to pay for legal representation. Others, such as Lex Shares, work with investors who get a cut of the case’s settlement.
That’s not what CrowdJustice is about. All the cases featured on the website are selected by the team upon a public interest basis. Some cases will have a more local impact, like the 88-year-old man who was banned by the local council nursing home from kissing his wife, who suffers from dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
But others could see changes to national law, such as the case asking the British Supreme Court to put an end to the Joint Enterprise Law, which allows people to be prosecuted for crimes in which they allegedly played a role in encouraging violence. The plaintiff is a group of families whose relatives have been sentenced under this law. While Joint Enterprise came into being over 300 years ago to discourage illegal dueling, human rights organizations agree that it is being abused by the system, that it targets the marginalized and that it often serves to imprison people even when there is little evidence of their participation in the crime.
Apart from the relevance to the community, litigants must also have a lawyer attached to the case. Also, donors don’t get any perks. Their reward is that the case goes to trial.
“Whatever the future [of law] looks like, we are certain it will involve an aspect of both community engagement and technology,” says Salasky. “It benefits the court system, as well as people using it, to see that cases might affect them, their communities or issues they care about, and also that the law and the justice system is there for everyone to use.”
CrowdJustice is currently focusing its efforts mostly in the UK, but Salasky points out that inability to afford access to courts is not a problem limited to her home country. | Cintia Taylor | Find out more: crowdjustice.com