This month, we were very happy to be working again with our friends at the SHARE Foundation to host our second litigation retreat. On this occasion the retreat brought together twelve digital rights litigators from across Europe in bustling Belgrade, Serbia to share and further develop their strategic litigation skills.
At the retreat, representatives from nine organisations that work on defending rights and freedoms in the digital space came together: Access Now, Amnesty International, Digital Security Lab Ukraine, Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, noyb, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, and the Public Interest Litigation Project. Each of these organisations also share an interest in using litigation as a means to ensure changes in law, policy or practice to enhance the protection of rights and freedoms in the digital sphere.
The retreat was an opportunity for litigators to get away from the office and focus the mind on litigation work in a collaborative environment. All participants came to the retreat with a case that they were working on, and that they could strategise and plan around. The cases workshopped during the retreat dealt with a range of digital rights issues: from website blocking and surveillance, to challenging data retention regimes and securing enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation.
Alongside the workshopping of specific cases, the four-day retreat involved a mixture of group work, plenary discussion, and substantive knowledge sharing sessions dealing with a range issues from case management and campaigning around a case, to building and implementing a litigation strategy. We also had an opportunity to hear from Senior Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Christiaan van Veen, who discussed the potential role of the UN Special Mechanisms in maximising impact in strategic cases and the work some UN mandates are currently doing on digital rights.
By the end of the retreat, participants left with the core elements of a comprehensive litigation and advocacy plan for their cases. One participant noted that the retreat was a “great and enriching experience that gave me practical tools for future use.” Another participant observed that the retreat “itemised how litigation strategy is but one piece of the advocacy puzzle.” The retreat also facilitated a better understanding of what other European digital rights litigators are currently working on. One participant noted that “[t]he collaborative efforts on digital rights across Europe is a lot more extensive and diverse than I knew.”
The agenda and materials used during the retreat were developed on the basis of input provided in follow-up conversations with members of our network interested in working on skill-building and skill-sharing after our February strategy meeting, as well as feedback provided by participants from our July retreat in Montenegro. We further benefitted from the expert guidance of Allen Gunn from Aspiration, who helped ensure that both our retreats fostered co-learning between participants in a collaborative environment. We would also like to thank one of the participants from our July retreat, Nevena Krivokapić, a lawyer at the SHARE Foundation, who joined us again as a co-facilitator for the week. “I had a fantastic and unique experience co-facilitating this event,” she said, “I enjoyed being able to spend a few days with the next generation of digital rights defenders, who shared very valuable insights for my future work.”
The litigation retreats form part of DFF’s work in supporting skill-building and skill-sharing amongst the field. This work will continue into 2019, with DFF supporting two thematically focussed litigation meetings. A call for applications for the first of these meetings, which will take place around May and focus on litigation around the GDPR, can be found on our website (deadline 30 November 2018). We are also working on a project to develop strategic litigation toolkits, which will include materials developed during the litigation retreats. We hope to share more information about this in the not-too-distant future!