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The benefits of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) are wide and varied, as varied as the cases themselves. However, there are a number of benefits common to most PIL actions.
PIL can be a vital strategy in securing access to justice, particularly for poor and marginalised groups. Every individual affected by a particular problem need not be directly involved in the legal process. PIL can benefit all victims, even those in remote areas or who are completely unaware of their rights.
The cost and resources involved in legal action often make it prohibitive for individuals but PIL extends the benefits of a favourable court order to people of few means, often the very people who need it most, thus translating rights on paper into practice.
By providing an avenue for marginalised groups to challenge unjust action, PIL has positive benefits in terms of civil society empowerment. It can unite citizens and civil society groups with diverse interests and backgrounds, provide a forum for them to be heard and build a common platform to push for change.
PIL, when successful, can hold governments to account for failures to uphold domestic and international human rights standards.
This combination of citizen engagement with a practical strategy to limit abuse of power makes it a powerful tool for human rights activists.
PIL can achieve meaningful reforms of policies and laws which breach human rights standards or constitutional provisions.
A specific case can challenge an unjust policy, law or procedure and can lead to systemic legal change from which all citizens may benefit.
In addition, PIL can obtain a legal interpretation on an untested legal issue and challenge how a particular law or policy is implemented.
Such an outcome can provide clarity for future conduct and define the legal obligations of public or private individuals and organisations.
Even if unsuccessful, a PIL case can shed light on information previously kept secret. Through court procedures, in particular the discovery of relevant evidence, information that is in the public interest can be requested and released.
This can powerfully promote transparency and disclose information that may be vital to addressing a human rights concern or promoting social change.
Beyond providing legal redress for specific cases, PIL can raise public awareness on a particular issue.
If combined with an effective media strategy, PIL can focus public scrutiny on a specific problem and stimulate debate.
In the digital age, high-profile coverage of a PIL case can have as much, if not more, influence on achieving change than the courtroom process itself.
You should therefore consider carefully how the media can be utilised from the outset of any PIL case.
Taking on a case that may have widespread benefits to a whole group of people or to society at large is an efficient use of resources.
Cost and time present substantial barriers to enforcing any human rights legislation.
However, costs can be significantly minimised by focusing on strategic cases with widespread impact for a large group of people. Where significant access to justice barriers exist, such as high legal costs and severe court delays, PIL can provide an effective solution.
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