Strategic Support for Legal Defenders of Press Freedom: Our Lawyer Impact Survey

Strategic Support for Legal Defenders of Press Freedom: Our Lawyer Impact Survey

Working with lawyers

Part of Media Defence’s mission is to provide support to lawyers who represent journalists. We do this by providing knowledge exchange opportunities, such as litigation surgeries and in-depth exploration of specific legal issues. We also support lawyers with their cases. This can range from advising on case strategy to helping develop legal arguments on freedom of expression issues.

We carried out our third Lawyer Impact Survey to evaluate the impact of our support to lawyers in 2023. Through our support, we hope to achieve wider impact through improved freedom of expression laws. The responses reflected the high quality of support provided by Media Defence, and demonstrated the different ways that freedom of expression cases can contribute towards a more pluralistic environment, and consequently, create space for enhanced protection for journalists and reporters.

We approved 162 new cases in 2023, and we held two in-person litigation surgeries, in Southeast Asia and Brazil. Additionally, we hosted events for our existing networks of lawyers. This included one online advanced litigation surgery for women lawyers from East and Southern Africa, a litigators’ convening for women lawyers in sub-Saharan Africa, quarterly know-how events and a newly launched a peer-to-peer programme.

For the survey, we received 14 responses from lawyers we supported in 2023 from different regions. 36% of respondents practised in Europe; 29% in Sub Sahara Africa and 21% in Latin America. This largely reflects the geographic spread of our new cases caseload, where a large portion came from Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Brazil. 71% of respondents identified as men, and 21% as women.

The impact of Media Defence’s support on knowledge and skills

Feedback from the survey indicated that Media Defence can have a positive impact on improving litigation skills and knowledge of freedom of expression issues:

  • 92% felt that they were more confident in their skills and ability in litigating freedom of expression cases.
  • 92% said that they were more likely to take on cases relating to the defence of journalism and media.
  • 83% believed that the quality of their case strategies and submission have improved
  • 83% said they more frequently include international and comparative law standards on freedom of expression in litigation.

The quality of Media Defence’s support

Responses indicated that Media Defence is responsive and provides high quality legal support.

Lawyer Impact Survey

The wider impact of Media Defence’s support on the legal environment for journalists and freedom of expression in their cases. 

Several respondents highlighted the link between financial support and successful case outcomes. Notably, one reported that without the financial support provided, “it would be impossible for us to litigate and provide legal support for the client on a pro-bono basis”.

Responses also indicated that the impact of Media Defence’s financial and legal support extends beyond immediate relief and can also have other unexpected, less tangible, impacts. One lawyer noted that the financial support to cover transport costs provided better access to justice for rural applicants, saying “the cases we handle in remote areas…providing assistance with transportation costs for lawyers to attend really help the victims’ right to justice.”

Another respondent highlighted the psycho-social impact. By ensuring the cover of legal fees associated with the case, “it reduced my client’s burden and improved his sense of security.”

One respondent noted that following from working with Media Defence, “I collaborate more with other organisations and entities working in the field and we are able to share strategies on how to manage the emerging issues that we foresee arising”.

Supporting lawyers in 2024

High quality specialist legal representation is more important than ever. Freedom of expression is declining globally and journalists and activists face both new and well-known threats. Our Lawyer Impact Survey can help us understand some ways that we improve our work at Media Defence.

Broadening our geographic outreach

Only, 7% of our respondents on our lawyer impact survey were from the Asia-Pacific region. The proportion of cases we receive from the region in 2023 was also small. There are serious restrictions on freedom of expression in the region. Recognising this, we are planning for future networking activities in the region. Combined with our litigation surgery in 2023, we hope this will strengthen our outreach and lawyer networks, and subsequently open opportunities for us to support more lawyers in this region.

Improving our gender and diversity inclusion and representation

We understand that there are gender-based challenges for women lawyers and women journalists. Our work in sub-Sahara Africa has piloted women-only spaces, holding networking events and litigation surgeries for women lawyers across the region. Nevertheless, we can make improvements to actively ensure a more diverse collection of voices are heard and represented in our evaluation activities so that we have a better understanding of our impact.

Tracing unexpected outcomes

Our Lawyer Impact Survey showed that Media Defence’s legal and financial support can have a wider impact. As part of our ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation practices, we try to capture these in different ways. However, we can explore different ways to increase our understanding of unexpected and unintended outcomes that are linked to our support.

Read about our case work and impact here.

If you are a lawyer representing journalists, please visit our Resource Hub, a source of free training materials and legal resources on freedom of expression.

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