WHEN human rights lawyers Jen Ang and Kirsty Thomson set up JustRight Scotland two years ago they had one aim in mind: to bring a collaborative approach to social justice.

Having both previously worked for Glasgow-based law centre Legal Services Agency, they wanted to combine their legal experience with the expertise of non-lawyers in a range of other organisations to bring legal cases that are in the public interest.

Initially JustRight focused on three specific areas of the law, with its Scottish Refugee and Migrant Centre, Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and Scottish Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Centre working with organisations such as the British Red Cross and Kids in Need of Defense UK to identify discriminatory practices that could be challenged via strategic litigation.

Also known as public interest litigation, strategic litigation is used to bring cases that go beyond the interests of any individual named in the case and are generally brought in the knowledge that any decision taken by the courts will have a much broader impact on society.

Last year, for example, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre worked alongside Rape Crisis Scotland to bring the so-called Ms M case, using the civil courts to bring a successful rape case on behalf of a woman who had felt let down by the criminal justice system.

Now, having secured close to £100,000 of funding from the Baring Foundation, JustRight is expanding its focus further, with the Scottish Just Law Centre due to launch at the beginning of next year.

“The centre will focus on two areas of the law in particular: disability justice and transgender justice,” Ms Ang said.

“We have two partner organisations – the Scottish Trans Alliance and Inclusion Scotland – and will be using their networks and expertise to provide non-legal support but also to help us think strategically about the issues that need to be tackled.

“In all the work we do we look at the Scottish Government’s equality strategy and look at where there are gaps in access to justice.

“It’s been clear that with disability law and trans justice there are gaps. This project came about because we’d already been asked to provide advice in these areas.”

Scottish Trans Alliance manager James Morton said JustRight’s collaborative approach was of particular interest to his organisation because “trying to access justice is so daunting and confusing that many people feel unable to challenge the unlawful discrimination they experience”.

“We believe the Scottish Just Law Centre will be a vital step forward in developing legal expertise in complex discrimination cases and empowering marginalised people to uphold their legal rights,” he said.

Heather Fisken, head of policy and research at Inclusion Scotland, agreed, noting that her organisation has “long highlighted the inaccessibility of justice for disabled people in Scotland and the impact that this has on disabled people’s rights”.

“We’re particularly keen to grow the use of public interest litigation in Scotland and to work on follow-on changes to laws and policies so that disabled people enjoy their rights to equality,” she said.

While the law centre has soft launched with Ms Ang at the helm, JustRight is in the process of looking for a dedicated solicitor to run it. The Baring Foundation funding will pay for that person to fill the role on a part-time basis for the next three years.

The successful candidate will be responsible for working alongside the Scottish Trans Alliance and Inclusion Scotland to identify the kind of matters the centre will pursue.

However, Ms Ang stressed that the funding JustRight has received will only pay the solicitor’s salary, with the organisation looking at other ways of bridging the funding gap that prevents many cases ever making it to the courts.

“There’s a lot of discussion about how to fund public interest cases – that’s a challenge because at the moment our legal aid system doesn’t recognise that,” she said.

“One of the things we hope to do with the Just Law Centre is look at releasing pro-bono capability – getting initial advice from counsel on a bro-bono basis - which has been a success in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales.

“The other thing we’d like to see more of is a commitment from our private sector colleagues around donations of time or support for this kind of work.

"Crowdfunding is also a possibility and some firms in Scotland have increasing confidence working in that way."