I Achieved Ecstasy at the Strategic Litigation Camp

This camp was not my first exposure to strategic litigation. I had attended a similar series of workshops last year, and was feeling rather guilty that I hadn’t done as much as I should’ve. Could’ve.

I registered for this camp at the request of my boss (I was interning at a law firm, PLVG), and more to chaperone a fellow intern from France than anything else. Expectation-wise, I initially thought it would be a similar experience to the workshops I’d attended, and that this would be a reinforcement of what I had learnt. I did however expect and was excited to see fireflies at night.

Upon meeting my fellow participants at the Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok early on Friday morning, I was surprised to discover that many of them were either pupils or young lawyers working in firms dealing with corporate and civil matters. This was quite different from the ‘usual’ crowd – those from backgrounds involving litigation or who had an active interest in criminal, constitutional, and public interest matters. Even more shocking was that half of them were not BonConned (conned by Edmund Bon) into attending! It was thus foretold by His Supreme Eminenceness Lord Bobo that there’d be many wet pants among the eager participants’ on their first meeting with The Bonsiah.

The camp venue.

My chalet-mates.

After arriving at our camp venue – Firefly Park Resort in Kuala Selangor – and being assigned our chalets and settling in and getting to know our roommates, we had our first session in the form of a primer for the next three days. Injustice, inequality, discrimination and oppression were highlighted as the main struggles that strategic litigation was to counter. Each of us later had to draw out our life charts, where we plotted significant events in our lives.

We were informed that we should achieve Ecstasy by the last day of camp (although what sort of Ecstasy, I couldn’t be quite sure).

Plotting life charts.

The participants were terribly solemn during the first few sessions – an oddity considering we had all been students of the law and so were expected to be loud and, well, slightly pugnacious. But by night-time, everybody had warmed up and was chatting away like old friends. Getting to see fireflies was definitely a highlight, although I would’ve been equally amused if those little specks of brightness were actually electric Christmas lights on trees. My urban self wouldn’t have known the difference, really.

Facilitators conducting the sessions.

The next day, our first session was on intersectionality, conducted by Honey Tan. I found the concept – or fact, rather – of intersectionality particularly interesting. We were given an article by Sunila Abeysekera, in which intersectional analysis was described as:

“A perspective based on the understanding that we all have shifting and multiple identities… Our inability to create a list of definitions of our identity in itself is proof of the multitude of identities that co-exist within one human body.”

This made a lot of sense as it showed how a person’s varying status or condition could make or break him in the course of his lifetime. A call for empathy and looking beyond external identification – realising we all share diverse but similar struggles at different points in life – it created a picture of where each of us stand in the context of power play – People vs Authorities.

Bundle and case papers.

Later on, we were split into groups and given cases – both decided and ongoing – which we were to study, form our own brief submissions and present on. My group chose judicial review on the case of Indira Gandhi (the decision for which was pending at the time), involving the conversion of children to Islam, and the issue of whether both parents’ consent is required to do so.

My group and opponents being all rajin.

Each group was to then make its submission to the panel of judges, comprising our camp facilitators. This was where many of us – law students, pupils and young lawyers – learnt the finer workings of court etiquette, from the addressing of judges to the responding of questions to the structuring of our submissions. This was a great activity as it allowed us to brainstorm as a group with new people, apply whatever skills we had, and learn from experienced lawyers at the fore of Malaysian public interest/human rights matters. We also learnt how to be strategic, in the sense that selected cases should have mass impact in identifying broadly with human suffering, and that carrying it out as a form of activism requires much more than litigation.

Our camp facilitators.

Here is where the much talked-about 198 Non-violent Direct Actions comes in. Gene Sharp in There Are Realistic Alternatives explains:

“A very important clue that such an alternative is possible lies in the fact that the strength of even dictatorships is dependent on sources of power in the society, which in turn depend on the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people – cooperation which may or may not continue… This other technique has not been based on turning the other cheek, but on the ability to be stubborn and to resist powerful opponents powerfully.”

Each group drew up our own Action Pyramid with strategies to further our individual causes outside of the courtroom. Some opted for Parliament petitions and public campaigns, while others cited the possibility of having nude protests or lysistratic non-action (sex strike). It was a fun session with lots of laughter and learning, as we explored the endless possibilities of civil resistance. Peaceful, creative resistance.

Our different levels of Ecstasy.

I felt that each and every one of us in our own way achieved the Ecstasy we were told about on the first day. The rush of excitement knowing there is more to a lawyer’s life than submitting your heart out in the courtroom as a be all and end all, that you don’t have to be dealing with criminal/constitutional matters as your day job to create public change and impact – and that most importantly – all of us are well capable of contributing to the cause, the movement – the very reasons that we want sustainable change in our society.

All photos were taken from the UndiMsia! Facebook page.

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Justine is a student intent on breaking convention. She finds humans to be fascinating creatures and believes in the uniqueness of the individual. She'd really love to blawg about her observations, but usually procrastinates and instead tweets her views and experiences @JustineMeiErn.

Posted on 17 September 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to I Achieved Ecstasy at the Strategic Litigation Camp

  1. Musa_Ng

    I'm gonna study law in my next life :)