Established in 1981, Lawyers Collective is one of the leading public interest service providers in India with a proven record of setting high standards in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation.
Lawyers Collective was formed at a time of important changes in the Indian judicial system. The traditional paradigm of an adversarial judicial process—where only the person whose interest is prejudiced may move the court—was being replaced by a more expansive notion of judicial function. Courts undertook the process of judicial review and there was a liberalisation of the rule of the law of locus standi. Both developments made the judiciary more accessible to disadvantaged sections of society who were denied their rights, enabled individuals and groups of people to move the courts on matters of common concern arising from dishonest or ineffective governance and increased public participation in the process of constitutional adjudication. Such litigation came to be known as public interest litigation.
A number of organisations began approaching the Supreme Court for violations of fundamental rights. The Supreme Court also took cognizance of newspaper reports on the same. Prisoners’ rights, the rights of children and bonded labourers all flowered in this period. Lawyers Collective was formed during this period with the specific aim of providing legal services to the community and meeting unmet needs of victims of undeserved wait. It took up cases of pavement dwellers and slum dwellers, hawkers and women in distress.
In this context, Lawyers Collective was distinguished by its membership comprising of professional lawyers, law students and human rights activists. It was created to provide expert legal assistance to the underprivileged, especially women and children, workers in the unorganised sector and other members of marginalised groups. Lawyers in Lawyers Collective were engaged in both professional and public interest work, using the former to subsidise the latter. However, even in their professional practices, our members are bound by the Collective’s code of ethics and do not take up any cases that are in conflict with public interest principles. Thus, they do not represent clients such as alleged rapists, or employers who violate labour laws.
Today Lawyers Collective runs funded projects on HIV-related issues and women’s rights.
Over the years, the Lawyers Collective has collaborated with other professionals as required for their expert opinion and supervision in specific cases. By doing so, the Collective has adopted a multi-disciplinary approach in arguing for legal remedies. Such professionals include epidemiologists, environmentalists, social scientists, etc.
Lawyers Collective was registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860in 1981 and subsequently as a trust under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950 in 1989.
From its inception, Lawyers Collective has actively supported a legal journal,From the Lawyers Collective. Bearing the motto, “law for the people”, this journal provides a legal analysis of current events and a forum for lawyers and activists for presenting their views. Until the setting up of Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit in 1997 with financial support from the European Community, the members of Lawyers Collective used to subsidise their public interest work of legal aid, advice through earnings made in their private practice. Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative was established in 1999 with support from the Ford Foundation with a focus on issues concerning women’s rights. There is also a Civil Rights Initiative Unit to undertake social action litigation on broader human rights issues.
The rationale behind accepting funds for setting up the units was, firstly to provide an institutional infrastructure to pursue legal interventions in areas of focus and secondly to attract talented young lawyers to pursue a career in social action litigation and legal advocacy by offering them sufficient remuneration.