What is The Law for Change Fund? Why was it set up?

The Law for Change Fund is a major fund to support public interest cases to bring about social change. Established in 2022, The Fund was set up to fill a very real gap in the current landscape by directly supporting legal cases in the public interest with the purpose of reforming the law, policy or practice of a public body, institution or company.

Who set up the Law for Change Fund?

The Law for Change Fund was set up by philanthropists Stephen Kinsella and David Graham together with philanthropy expert and law reformer Charles Keidan.

What sort of cases might the fund support?

Here are a few examples:-

Issue: Employment Rights:

Junior lecturers at a UK university were being engaged on service contracts that gave them very few employment rights. A preliminary analysis showed that they had a strong legal case to insist on genuine employment contracts. Funding enabled the provision of legal advice from a law firm and a barrister’s opinion. On the back of that the law firm engaged in negotiation but also began the process of preparing for the tribunal case. The clear readiness to proceed to trial and the availability of funds to do so convinced the university that it should settle, with offers of formal employment contracts and of compensation to some individuals for previously denied rights to holiday and other pay.

Issue: Environmental protection:

A group of local campaigners opposed to fracking sought a judicial review of the lawfulness of a Council’s grant of planning permission. The claim was made on the basis that existing environmental impact regulations legally require the Council to assess the carbon emissions released from the end use of the oil and that no such assessment was carried out.

Issue: Government breaking its own laws

Following the Met’s refusal to investigate lockdown breaking parties in 10 Downing Street, the Good Law Project obtained and published convincing legal opinions and issued proceedings. The threat of legal action contributed to growing public disquiet and led the Met to reverse its decision. Ultimately, the Met issued over 30 fixed penalties, the impact of which was out of all proportion to the amounts of those fines.

Issue: Disability rights

Equality campaigners successfully secured a court injunction forcing a private entertainment company to provide a sign language interpreter at a live music event. The court found the company guilty of unlawful discrimination under the equality act. Shortly after the ruling, Wembley Stadium announced that they will offer British Sign Language interpretation as a guaranteed service at every live concert – making them the UK’s biggest venue to offer this. This campaign won in May 2022 the SMK Best Use of Law Award sponsored by the Law for Change Fund.

Issue: The right to public services

A local authority was going to close a library and a health authority made a decision to close a local hospital – both in Gloucestershire. In both cases, funding enabled legal advice to be sought and showed a readiness to go to court resulting in the reversal of decisions at relatively little cost – especially when compared to the harm to society which the closure of these services would have caused.

Issue: Government misuse of data

During the Covid pandemic, the Department for Education resorted to generating A Level results using clearly flawed algorithms which affected the life chances of thousands of young people. Funding legal action enabled a decision to reverse the policy and award grades based on predicted grades, saving many student places at university.

A common thread in all these cases is that relatively modest investments, which in some cases are guarantees of payments that ultimately do not have to be made because the case is successful, can have an impact many times more than what is pledged.

What criteria will be used to select cases?

The Fund will focus on cases that can make a difference, perhaps even by changing or clarifying the law but certainly giving rise to benefits for a significant number of people rather than simply an individual benefit for a particular claimant. In particular, we are interested in cases that have a clear social benefit to the community or sections of the community, especially marginalised groups and/or groups that have limited access to justice and stand to benefit from legal actions in the public good. We select cases that have a tangible social benefit and a strategy not just for success but those that can contribute to lasting social change.

We will be looking for cases that might not be brought to a conclusion without our support. In addition, we will generally be looking for cases that have a predictable timescale and a limited cost/expense exposure rather than open ended commitments.  We will be asking the law firm that brings us the case and our own expert panel to rate cases against those criteria and offer us some assurances of the likely outcome.

Legal actions we won’t support 

The Law for Change Fund is reluctant to fund legal claims where an organisation is well-funded and should have the capabilities to cover their own costs. We also recognise the important and unique work of existing strategic litigation funding projects and will tend not to fund legal actions that are well-served by others in this field, for example the Digital Freedom Fund and Strategic Legal Fund.

How large is the fund?

It is expected that the fund will be in excess of £1 million in the initial period. The founders hope to partner with other progressive funders to grow the fund over time.

How will funds be managed and governed?

In the start-up period, funds will be managed by the charity Changing Ideas on behalf of the founders with a dedicated sub account for the Legal Fund.

Does the Law for Change Fund accept applications from individual claimants?

No. The Fund will deal with law firms (working with law centres, legal experts and other professional service providers) who will take on the management of the case on behalf of claimants and provide a single professional point of contact with The Fund.

What is expected of law firms?

Law firms and solicitors are expected to act in client’s best interests at all times and give an honest assessment of the merits of each case. These assessments will be tested by The Fund which will conduct its own independent assessment.

What is the remit of the legal expert panel?

The expert legal panel will be comprised of a small group of legal experts acting pro bono for The Fund. Their job is solely to review the legal merits of each case. Each case will be considered by three legal experts. The reviewers and their comments will remain anonymous and we will not disclose which experts have been assigned to each case.

Who will make decisions on which cases are ultimately supported and the level of funding?

The Law for Change Fund founders will be responsible for determining which cases to support and at what level taking into account the advice of the legal panel on the merits of the case.

How much funding will be made available for each legal action?

We recognise that the funding process for judicial reviews and other legal actions can be protracted and fraught with uncertainty.

In our experience many cases can be resolved on the basis of clear legal advice, perhaps including an expert opinion, and demonstrable readiness to go to court if necessary.  Therefore, the funding required could vary considerably but we would be prepared to allocate up to £50,000 for a case. We actively encourage law firms and claimants to carefully consider the most effective funding strategy including protective cost orders, cost caps, reciprocal costs caps, conditional fee agreements, alongside support from philanthropic sources such as crowd funding and other donors.

The objective of the Fund is to sufficiently “de-risk” the process by providing law firms with the resources needed to enable more cases in the public interest to proceed than would otherwise be possible. It is not expected or intended that The Fund will cover the entire potential costs of a claimant’s case.

Decisions will be made on a case for case basis in accordance with the strategic goals of the Fund, and tactical considerations about the size and timing of any funds committed.

It is also expected that some proportion of the allocated funds might be used to pursue activities necessary to get the case off the ground, for example campaigning to raise the profile of the issue. This is welcomed so long as it helps the underlying purpose of ensuring a case gets prosecuted which might not otherwise be viable.

Funding from the Law for Change Fund might cover a combination of the initial stages of an action, e.g. pre-action correspondence to get a credible case off the ground and/or support in the event a case goes to trial.

Law for Change Fund would approach funding in a tactical manner designed to avoid being counterproductive in terms of obtaining cost capping protection.  And one factor in our decision to support a case would be the possible level of adverse costs.

Will founders or funders seek to exert control?

Beyond ensuring adherence to the primary purposes of the Fund, The Fund wishes to provide funds to prosecute a case but exercise no interest in it personally other than updates on progress and outcomes.

Does the Law for Change Fund have any paid staff?

The Law for Change Fund has recruited a Fund Manager who provides secretariat support to the fund, including being responsible for handling of paperwork, dispatching bundles to our expert legal panel, fielding enquiries and providing general administrative support.