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Crowdfunding for justice takes multinational oil companies to court

Kickstart of the legal world aims to promote access to justice amid severe cuts to legal aid

22 May 2015

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The UK's first crowdfunding platform for litigation has launched with a David versus Goliath case.

The platform - called CrowdJustice - enables people to come together to fund cases where an issue affects a whole community, such as the destruction of the local park, the closure of hospital A&E units, or a human rights issue.

The first case to launch on the site, Torres v BP and others, is a human rights case involving a former oil engineer and trade union leader, Gilberto Torres, with a claim for human rights abuses against British multinational oil and gas companies, after he was kidnapped and tortured. He is seeking justice in the UK courts, and his case is featured in the Guardian.

It is the first UK case involving a multinational accused of human rights violations abroad to be crowdfunded.

Speaking about the first case to launch, CrowdJustice CEO and founder, Julia Salasky, said: 'In Gilberto's case, he is a vulnerable person who is making a claim against UK fossil fuel companies for atrocious human rights violations. It's an unusual and complex case, but I think it affects any of us who believe in the right - or perhaps even the obligation - of human beings to hold truth to power.'

Sue Willman, a partner specialising in human rights law at Deighton Pierce Glynn, who is acting for the claimant, remarked: 'There is a desperate need for access to justice in cases of extreme human right violations like Gilberto's. Crowdfunding is a chance to fill the gap. It is shocking that his claim could be silenced due to lack of funds.

All-or-nothing model

The platform uses the reach of technology to bring people together to help fund such cases. The site functions much like the already popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, with an all-or-nothing funding model that empowers communities as much as the person with the legal case.

Salasky, commented: 'Justice is a fundamental right and lack of access to funds simply can't be a good enough reason for not being able to access the courts. Legal aid cuts and lack of access to justice is a problem that affects the most vulnerable very acutely - it's hard not to feel gloomy about it.

'But all sorts of people can be affected by a legal issue - not just the person bringing the case - and it's in those situations where crowdfunding might provide a ray of hope. CrowdJustice provides a platform for communities to come together to fund legal issues that they care about and that affect them.'

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Legal Aid Funding