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 violatelabour 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.