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Public Interest Litigation Threats: Cost Orders

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Civil society organisations are hosting a workshop on 9 September on the threat of cost orders to public interest litigation

[UPDATE: An earlier version of this post listed the date for the workshop as 9 September 2021. Please note the virtual workshop has had to be postponed.]

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Open Secrets and Animal Law Reform South Africa (ALRSA) invite you to a virtual workshop on the increasing trend and threat to civil society organisations of adverse costs orders when litigating in the public interest.

Date: Thursday, 28 October 2021

Time: 14:00 – 16:00

Platform: Zoom


 There has been growing concern from civil society about the increase in adverse costs orders or the threat of costs orders by litigants and the courts. Many civil society organisations have had to appeal costs orders or fiercely defend against them, at unnecessary expense and wasted time and energy.

 In particular, there are three main areas that are concerning:

  1. Courts are increasingly disregarding the Biowatch principle and imposing adverse costs orders on civil society organisations or individuals litigating in the public interest, even when the litigation is against the state and not frivolous or vexatious.
  2. Courts are narrowly defining what constitutes a “constitutional issue”, resulting in civil society organisations litigating in the public interest at times being precluded from the Biowatch.
  3. Civil society organisations litigating in the public interest and / or on a constitutional principle or provision, against a private individual or company are not protected against adverse costs orders.

This is having a chilling effect on the fight for social justice, particularly in the context of litigating in the public interest against corporations.

Aim of the workshop

The aim of the workshop is to start a collective discussion about the risks associated with litigating in the public interest when it comes to adverse costs orders. The workshop aims to present organisations’ experiences in this regard, and to collectively find ways of proactively dealing with threats of adverse costs orders.

The workshop, to be facilitated by CALS Director Prof Tshepo Madlingozi, will include:

  • Discussions of organisational experiences with adverse costs orders;
  • Analysis and reflection on these experiences; and
  • A brainstorming session on possible proactive ways forward – including litigation and advocacy options.

The workshop will be inclusive, focused, participatory and practical. We attach some guiding questions for participants for their contemplation ahead of the workshop. The workshop is hopefully the first step on a path to fearless protection of justice for a better world.

Click here to register 

Please feel free to contact Thuli Zulu for more information at

A Zoom link will be shared with participants after registration and an agenda circulated the day before the workshop