Crowdjustice aims to put the power back into the hands of the people. By crowdfunding legal action, their intention is to make the law available to everyone.
But do CrowdJustice actually serve the people who most need their help?
Access to justice is a cornerstone of democracy, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But for some in the UK, this access is under threat.
To overcome this problem, CrowdJustice was founded in 2015 by lawyer Julia Stalisky. Following success in the UK – famously with campaigns focused upon the Chilcot Enquiry and Brexit – the platform launched in the US with immediate effect.
CrowdJustice is simple – once you have a lawyer, you submit your case to the CrowdJustice site. If your submission is successful, you are invited to build a page to attract donations. When you reach your target, funds transfer to your lawyer.
A CrowdJustice campaign is very similar to any crowdfunding campaign. This isn’t a surprise when you consider both crowdfunding for business and for justice have the same intention: to fix society’s inefficiencies by democratising access to capital.
As Stalisky told The Guardian: “It’s becoming harder all the time for ordinary people to enter the courts. Most of that comes down to funding.” In the UK, we no longer seem to have a justice system that protects the weak.
Due to the rise of competitive labour markets and a huge hike in civil law fees, justice and the employment of highly-trained lawyers are becoming ever more expensive. Concurrently, the public is being hindered by social and political factors, including legal aid cuts, changes to judicial review legislation and the swelling of the argument against the international convention of human rights.
As a result of this financial and judicial squeeze, a crowd economy for civil action emerged, with CrowdJustice at its vanguard, aiming to put justice back into the hands of the people.
But funding justice in this way is not straightforward. CrowdJustice gains strength from being similar to traditional crowdfunding. It shows weakness here, too.
Crowdfunding relies on brand. As with Brewdog, brand can make a campaign a fantastic success. But if a person can't afford the law in the first place, are they going to be able to create successful PR that boosts their crowdfunding campaign?
Extending this argument, is crowdfunding for justice not just a tool for people who already have moderate wares and means required to build a campaign? So, the people who require help – those with very little – are those who miss out yet again.
Furthermore, due to the unglamorous nature of many litigation claims, there may be a large number of failed campaigns, with cases that don’t capture the public imagination remaining un-funded. Are these campaigns any less noble or necessary just because they aren’t remarkable or sexy? Of course not. In many cases they are more necessary. But the democratic crowd – who vote with their wallets – might deem many worthy campaigns “unworthy” of requiring help.
Only time will provide answers to these questions. CrowdJustice is only two years old and it deserves more time to test and iterate. Like other controversial forms of crowd finance (e.g. microloans), it is not perfect, it has critics, but the fact it exists is remarkable for the people it is already beginning to help.
We’ve seen crowdfunding develop in a myriad of ways in the past decade. Some of those ways seem ephemeral, unimportant, perhaps selfish. But crowdfunding for justice is important, tangible, and, by handing the power back to the people, potentially revolutionary.
You can track CrowdJustice’s development using Crowdsurfer Pro.