The Supreme Court Brexit case only happened because of crowdfunding – and you won't have heard of the people who did it

When you volunteer in a legal aid clinic, you see how many people aren't able to access justice because of a lack of funds. Crowdfunding bolstered the Brexit case and has even been used by cleaners to bring their own employment tribunals to court

Julia Salasky
Tuesday 06 December 2016 12:18
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This week, all eyes will be on Gina Miller and 11 Supreme Court judges, as the former City banker takes forward a historic challenge to the Government to determine whether a parliamentary vote is required to trigger Article 50 and Britain’s exit from the European Union.

But if the camera panned out a little more, we would see that there is a wider group of British citizens who are intervening in the challenge alongside Miller.

And it is the story of these – dare I say “ordinary” citizens – which deserves some focus, as a beacon of light in a troubled justice system. The small group have brought the “People’s Challenge” to ensure that the Supreme Court also hears the voice – and the legal argument – of everyday British people who feel disenfranchised by the Brexit vote.

Leading the “People’s Challenge” is Grahame Pigney, a former IT consultant, now retired and living in France. During the Brexit vote and the whirlwind of rhetoric that induced it, Pigney felt a sting of injustice of having something unfairly foisted upon him.

Brexit battle: Supreme Court hearing begins

He had never taken a court case before, but rather than confine his discontent to late night dinner conversation, he decided to take action. He rallied a small group of likeminded expats, hired an expert legal team and put forward an argument.

As he puts it, “the removal of the rights of the British people” – these range from European citizenship to several specific personal freedoms – were granted by Parliament, and it ought to be “for Parliament only to decide when, how, and under what circumstances they are taken away.”

However, nobody in the group had pockets deep enough to fund a legal challenge of these proportions, and though the legal team worked long hours on reduced rates, the amount needed to retain the best legal team was not trivial. It was for this reason that “The People’s Challenge” turned to crowdfunding.

Ten weeks later, Grahame Pigney and the “People’s Challenge” had raised over £170,000 on the legal crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice and were able to pursue the case. He said the moment of the High Court ruling was exhilarating.

For Grahame and his group, it’s the combination of new technology and old constitutional precedent that combined to win the day.

When I volunteered at a legal aid clinic, I regularly met people who were unable to enforce their rights in court because they couldn’t afford to get there in the first place – and conversely, people who were able to create powerful change for themselves or others simply because they could afford good counsel.

Now, it’s hugely exciting to see legal cases going ahead that couldn’t without crowdfunding – and those cases range from the local to the national and the personal to the political. We’ve seen five junior doctors crowdfunding to judicially review the imposition of new contracts; local communities challenging hazardous waste landfills next to their kids’ schools; and cleaners raising funds for employment tribunals.

I have donated myself to many crowdfunded legal cases, but more than that, I strongly believe in the right of each and every case to have their arguments heard and the outcome determined by the courts.

That’s why for me, whatever the Supreme Court decides in the Brexit case, the victory has already happened.

Julia Salasky is the CEO of CrowdJustice

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