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Ethics in Strategic Human Rights Litigation: Thorny Issues and Practical Questions (Program)

Marion Isobel, Open Society Justice Initiative (UK) (Moderator); Margaret Satterthwaite, NYU (US); Masha Lisitsyna, Open Society Justice Initiative (US); and Andrés Díaz Fernandez, Fundar (Mexico) 

Ethics in Strategic Human Rights Litigation: Thorny Issues and Practical Questions

There are many layers of complexity in strategic human rights litigation. Certain core ethical principles underpin the work of all lawyers, but those principles are expressed in different ways around the world and the detail can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Because human rights organizations often employ staff from around the world and engage in litigation in a range of forums across multiple jurisdictions, it can be difficult for lawyers to even identify the ethical rules that apply to them.

In addition to the general rules of ethical legal practice that apply to all lawyers, human rights lawyers also must be mindful of challenges and difficult issues of professional discretion that can arise in the particular context of human rights cases. Client care, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, settlements; all of these issues become particularly complex and thorny in the human rights and civil society context.

This panel brings together experienced lawyers and academics to discuss a few of the most interesting and problematic issues that can arise in human rights litigation.

  • How do human rights lawyers understand their dual roles as representatives of clients and advocates for broader change? What happens when your client’s best interests diverge from your own interest in advancing the law in a particular way?
  • How can you take care of your client when they have complex needs, or are vulnerable, or have suffered torture or trauma? What holistic approaches to client care can you adopt to fulfill your ethical obligations? What support can you offer to your client without running afoul of inducement prohibitions?

The paper associated with this panel is a Practice Note developed by the Open Society Justice Initiative providing practical assistance to human rights practitioners for effective strategic litigation. It includes guidelines on how to identify the ethical rules that apply to you, as well as practical assistance on client care, confidentiality, case management, and examples of how to deal with tensions and conflicts of interest that can occur in strategic litigation. A working draft will be shared with conference participants in order to gather input and case examples, with a final version planned for publication in early 2017.

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