Value and Impact of Strategic Litigation: Fool’s Paradise or Indispensable Weapon?

Currently burgeoning in many parts of the Global South, strategic litigation remains surprisingly unexamined as a tool of social change. In this conversation, three experts engage litigators, practitioners, funders, and others interested in the debate.

A positive judgment can expedite the advancement of rights in ways that other forms of advocacy cannot. The landmark Brown v. the Board of Education decision (1954) precipitated the rapid, nationwide desegregation of American schools, reversing an inherent inequality that had persisted for hundreds of years. In South Africa, successful strategic litigation has saved the lives of millions of society’s most marginalized people through access to antiretroviral drugs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. But court-centered intervention can also divide communities, enshrine retrograde jurisprudence and precedents, and even provoke backlash against social movements and the principles and rights they are seeking to advance.


  • Noeline Blackwell has been director general of FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), an Irish human rights NGO focused on access to justice, since 2005.
  • Brian Kearney-Grieve is program executive for reconciliation and human rights at Atlantic Philanthropies.
  • Gilbert Marcus is a senior counsel practicing at the Johannesburg Bar, with experience litigating in both apartheid and post-independence courts in South Africa.
  • James A. Goldston (Moderator) is executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Date: July 17, 2014
Time: 12:201:30 p.m.
Noeline Blackwell, James A. Goldston, Brian Kearney-Grieve, and Gilbert Marcus