Is this the future in a world where legal aid is almost non-existent for challenging fundamental human rights issues?
Two Midlands pensioners in their eighties thrust legal sector crowd-funding into the spotlight earlier this week.
Thomas Middleton — a former RAF serviceman and retired businessman — is aiming to raise funds to challenge rules implemented by Derby City Council that dictate his behaviour when visiting his wife of 67 years, who is in a care home suffering from dementia.
The case is complex and highly sensitive, with strong arguments on both sides. However, for lawyers it has highlighted gaps in legal aid funding for the non-affluent middle class.
Attempting to fill the gap in this case is a crowd-funding scheme that was launched only a month ago.
CrowdJustice is the brainchild of former City of London solicitor Julia Salasky, who qualified into the litigation department at magic circle law firm Linklaters in 2012 before moving to the in-house legal team at the United Nations.
But Salasky is now almost entirely devoted to this innovative project, which many might see as the future of funding for public interest litigation that falls outside the ever-narrowing parameters of legal aid eligibility.
The site currently has three cases open for funding. Apart from the Middleton action, it is promoting a case involving allegedly hazardous landfill in Lancashire and a challenge to British oil exploration in Colombia.
The Middleton case has a target of £4,000 and is nearly 30% funded after having been open to contributions for the last week. The Lancashire case is 10% funded so far, while the Colombia oil exploration challenge has exceeded its £5,000 target.
Salasky’s online platform has been compared with more commercially driven and bigger third-parting litigation funding operations. But she points to a crucial difference — financial contributors to her cases are exempt from negative costs orders as the funds are effective cash gifts to the claimants, who bear liability if they lose the actions.
Julia Salasky came into the Legal Cheek studio yesterday to discuss her project.