UNESCO launches practical guide for amicus curiae interventions in freedom of expression cases

Legal proceedings related to freedom of expression cases can oftentimes present a unique opportunity for specialized organizations to advance international human rights standards related to the interpretation and enforcement of this fundamental human right. On that basis, national and international courts have witnessed an increase in the number of amicus curiae interventions – meaning, the intervention of a person or organization who participates in a legal proceeding to provide an external perspective on the case at hand- submitted by civil society organizations with the goal of bringing relevant information or legal trends that have not been highlighted by the parties to the attention of these courts.

Amicus curiae interventions are one of the pathways for civil society organizations to actively contribute to upholding the application of international human rights standards to cases related to freedom of expression, in a way which best contributes to protecting and promoting this essential human right and its corollaries, freedom of information and press freedom.

Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information.

Amicus curiae interventions can play a key role in the setting of lasting legal precedents for the protection and promotion of free, independent and pluralistic media ecosystems. They can also draw the attention of the wider public to a case where the right to freedom of expression or the safety of journalists is at stake, and serve as an important advocacy and educational tool for judges, lawyers, and society at large.

However, there are a number of considerations that any organization wishing to take part in a relevant case via amicus curiae interventions should take into account before embarking inti the amicus curiae process. Poorly led interventions can negatively affect the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings, cause unnecessary delays in the litigation, or politicize further an already politically sensitive case.

The UNESCO Guide for Amicus Curiae Interventions on Freedom of Expression Cases seeks to equip civil society organizations with the basic tools to file effective amicus curiae interventions, and encourage them to intervene in cases where freedom of expression standards can be advanced or where the right to freedom of expression or the safety of journalists is at stake. The Guide provides practical information on how to file amicus curiae briefs and sets out strategic considerations – as well as do’s and don’ts – with the goal of helping organizations write the most impactful brief possible.

The Guide was authored by Peter Noorlander, an independent consultant in human rights and media law & policy, founding Legal Director and former CEO of Media Defence, and Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19.

The guide draws on my own experience of more than twenty years of legal advocacy, drawing on lessons learned from successful interventions as well as less successful ones (…). Amicus curiae interventions can be a powerful tool for civil society organizations to participate in legal processes and advocate for strong implementation of international standards on freedom of expression. Such interventions should however be used strategically and with due consideration for the legal process and culture in the country or court where the case is pending.

Peter Noorlander, Author of UNESCO’s Guide for Amicus Curiae Interventions on Freedom of Expression

The publication of this guide was made with the support of Media Defence, an international human rights organization which provides legal help to journalists and independent media across the world who are under threat for their reporting.

About the Multi-Donor Programme for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP)

The MDP serves to further strengthen UNESCO work at a global, regional, and national levels, by channeling funds towards emerging priorities and the most pressing needs to achieve its mandate on freedom of expression. It enables UNESCO Communication and Information Sector to address complex issues through the design and implementation of holistic medium and long-term interventions at national, regional and global levels. The clear advantage of this mechanism is that it allows UNESCO and its partners to achieve greater impact and sustainability, whilst reducing fragmentation of activities in the same field.

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