The Legal Update Trending

Interview: Jasper Teulings, General Counsel of Greenpeace International

The Attic recently spoke with Jasper Teulings, general counsel of Greenpeace International in Amsterdam. With a team of 10 lawyers spread across the world, Jasper Teulings takes on immense legal challenges that combine not only legal expertise but something rarely seen in the private sector – a will to break down silos between NGOs, the public and academia to foster active collaboration on topics that affect us all. Here he gives us a fascinating in-depth insight into working in the nonprofit sector at the most famous name in environmental conservation.

Tell us about the legal department of Greenpeace…

I manage a team of 10 lawyers at Greenpeace International, the international coordinating body for the global Greenpeace network, with independent national or regional offices covering 55 countries.

My team comprises of a number of specialists with expertise on international law, maritime law, human rights, media law, and Dutch law (as we are based in the Netherlands). We provide legal services to Greenpeace International first and foremost at a strategic and operational level, and we also provide legal support to our national offices at a strategic level. Less than half of these offices have some form of in-house legal capacity but we collaborate with them frequently, or with the national office’s external counsel, and with pro bono firms and law clinics. As general counsel I support the team and focus on key risks and opportunities. The team works on the full spectrum of legal work conceivable in the NGO sector.

What’s a typical day like?

It’s typical that there isn’t a typical day! Our work falls into three key areas, which we have named Sword, Shield and Armour: which translates as strategic litigation, strategic defense and organisational legal support respectively. The first two are rather Greenpeace-specific and the last one is what one would expect from an in-house legal function anywhere. The work is truly global.

#1 Strategic litigation – Sword

This is the most important aspect of our work. You could find us developing a legal case to protect the Amazon against destructive industries, or organising a case conference on climate litigation. Most of our strategic litigation work is in the realm of climate litigation, supporting our local Greenpeace organisations and their allies.

For instance recently, Greenpeace Netherlands joined a case brought by Friends of the Earth against Shell in which the court is asked to make Shell align with the Paris climate agreement. You could also find us filing a securities complaint against the lack of disclosure of climate risk in relation to a coal plant or oil pipeline, or we could be discussing the fiduciary duties of pension funds to divest from fossil fuel. It’s an incredibly dynamic field we’re fortunate enough to be at the forefront of, in support of our society’s much needed transition to renewable energy.

#2 Strategic defense – Shield

In terms of strategic defense, you would see us engaging with a case in Strasbourg in front of the European Court of Human Rights. We have one case pending at this instance, on behalf of the 28 activists and two freelance journalists who were unlawfully arrested and detained by Russia following a peaceful protest against oil drilling in the Arctic waters.

We could be working with allies and academics, on a general comment of the article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of assembly together with allies – that’s more legal advocacy work. Or we are managing pending litigation against us. We have two rather bizarre cases in the US based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, one brought by Resolute Forest Products (read more about it here), a logging company in Canada, and another one by Energy Transfer, an oil company from Texas. Both companies were represented by Trump’s go-to law firm, who argued Greenpeace’s environmental advocacy amounts to a criminal enterprise. To be clear: both cases relate to pure speech activities (reports, tweets etc.), and both lack any form of legal merit. As such they classify as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) – a form of legal intimidation increasingly deployed by corporations against public watchdogs.

The first case was dismissed by a San Francisco court as a SLAPP on 22 January 2019 (for the second time) and the second was fully dismissed by a North Dakota court on 14 February 2019, which held that “donating to people whose cause you support does not create a RICO enterprise”. But we don’t expect we’ve seen the last of these bogus claims.

For us, it’s not just about ensuring we’ve got the best legal defense. These are PR attacks as much as they are legal attacks, and civil society needs to bolster its resilience against them. We are therefore a founding member of a coalition of civil society actors in the US called Protect the Protest, which aims to build resilience against SLAPPs. In that coalition, we partner with EarthRights International, ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom of the Press Foundation and many others.

#3 Legal support – Armour

In the context of our Armour work, some of my team members may be reviewing a contract, looking into compliance issues, or supporting colleagues at Greenpeace India against a barrage of bureaucratic attacks, which are a direct consequence of Greenpeace India’s campaigns to protect the climate and the forests. This is part of a broader attack on civic space in India, which has forced Greenpeace India to let go of part of its staff. Unfortunately, NGOs face increasing civic space constraints in many countries nowadays; there is degree of crisis management in dealing with these matters. We simultaneously have to fight for space to operate in countries with democratically-challenged governments, and deal with large corporations with vested interests abusing the legal system to suppress criticism. Those are fights I’d rather not have to fight. I would prefer to focus exclusively on advancing our environmental goals.

What’s your background?

Before joining Greenpeace International as general counsel in 2004, I was in private practice in the Netherlands for 10 years. After graduation from Amsterdam University and the University of Canterbury, I clerked at the Amsterdam Court of Appeals and then became a member of the Dutch Bar. I worked in various law firms in commercial litigation, civil litigation and media law, mostly representing media.

In addition to the work I do for Greenpeace International, I sit on the (Supervisory) Board of EarthRights International and SOMO, two NGOs whose work I really admire. And I am on the Advisory Board of the University of Amsterdam’s Law School. These roles enrich my views and allow me to share our experiences and networks as wide as possible. I also regularly give guest lectures at universities, something I really enjoy.

What about your team?

I am very fortunate to have an excellent team of specialists. Their expertise is tailored towards the needs of a global NGO: international law, human rights, environmental law, media law, maritime law, etc. They hold a range of nationalities and qualifications. A good number are members of US bars, and we have two UK barristers, and some Dutch-trained lawyers.

The people in my team are mostly based in Amsterdam, but also in Copenhagen and Colorado. Greenpeace International has around 250 staff, 100 of whom are based in Amsterdam. The global Greenpeace network has close to 4000 staff, based in one of the 27 independent National or Regional Offices, covering 55 countries. Fortunately, working globally nowadays is much easier. We have excellent video conferencing facilities, collaborative web-based tools and remote working facilities to keep our carbon footprint and expenses as low as possible.

What are your biggest challenges?

That has to be the urgency of the issues we deal with.

According to the most recent IPCC Report on Climate Change, the next decade is critical if we are to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which in turn is needed to keep global temperature rise within 1.5C. At the same time, we see biodiversity loss rapidly increasing. These are tremendous challenges for humanity. Strategic litigation can play a key role in supporting our campaigns against climate change and biodiversity loss. Fortunately, there is an increased appreciation for this work and we are hopeful that we will be able to expand opportunities in the near future.

How do you prepare for the future in the legal sector?

While we do use a lot of collaborative web-based tools, we don’t really use legal tech; not as much as legal departments in the commercial sector. It comes down to the fact that within my team there is no bulk work – it’s all tailor-made. The work we do is highly specialised work that requires independent assessment of each case or matter, and that’s what makes it exciting.

Our imperative is to keep identifying the best legal instruments and tactics to advance our organisation’s environmental goals. I encourage my team to actively build networks to help us in our work. They contribute to academic research, they publish, and they sit on other charities’ boards.

#1 Landmark Cases as Building Blocks

In our strategic litigation work, we try to create landmark cases that act as global building blocks to advance environmental and human rights interests. A significant climate change victory in one jurisdiction, while it does not have precedential value in the strictest sense elsewhere, often has significant moral authority in other jurisdictions. There’s a famous Philippines Supreme Court ruling – Oposa v Factoran – that recognises the rights of future generations. This landmark case has served as an inspiration in our own Norwegian constitutional challenge, and also in the famous Urgenda case in the Netherlands, as well as in pending climate cases in the US, such as Juliana v United States.

We try to identify such building blocks across the globe and see how they can be translated into local contexts and act as inspiration for judicial audacity. Where governments and corporations fail to meet their duty towards society and nature, courts intervene. For us as a legal team, identification and dissemination of these building blocks is an essential part of our work.

#2 Thinking Outside the NGO Box

We have seen a convergence of issues that requires us, as lawyers, to transcend traditional boundaries between environmental law and human rights. Climate change is increasingly seen as human rights issue. This allows us to strengthen bonds with other NGOs dealing with these issues. We are partnering with Amnesty when it comes to climate emergencies. On civic space, we work with NGOs that strengthen fundamental rights such as peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Breaking down the silos in the NGO sector is a highly-needed development and very welcome.

#3 Harnessing Support for Legal Action

The third axis of future development is how to harness the massive popular support for legal action. Over half a million people have supported our case against the Norwegian government and the recent case by Oxfam and Greenpeace against the French government generated over two million signatories in a couple of weeks. These are important indicators of public interest for the judiciary and politicians. How do you make that point come across – should these individuals become individual plaintiffs like Friends of the Earth has been doing? In the Norwegian case, we submitted the signatures of half a million people as evidence of popular support for our case – prompting the judiciary to take its duty and act where governments and corporations are failing to act.

How might Brexit impact the day-to-day running of Greenpeace International?

Greenpeace International is a Dutch foundation so the impact should be minimal. Two UK lawyers on my team are working from Amsterdam, but I gather from colleagues at UK-based NGOs that they are concerned about the potential disruption – they may at some point join the exodus of talent from the UK to the continent. On the broader political level, it’s a worrying sign of nationalism at a time when we need more multilateralism to address global problems. You simply cannot address these complex issues at a national level alone – international collaboration will always be key.

What does 2019 have in store for Greenpeace?

We expect a tidal wave of climate litigation, especially as there is a growing popular concern about the lack of public action, as an expression of the need to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. I expect this type of litigation to involve both governments and increasingly, corporations. More governments will be compelled to ramp up their regulatory efforts and more fossil fuel companies will face legal challenges regarding their long term strategies.

We are also expecting increased scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry from the financial sector. Is it still responsible to invest in fossil fuels? Are climate risks adequately disclosed as material risks? What is the role of the accounting sector, of rating agencies? Are they overstating the values of stocks of fossil fuel companies? It’s not just Greenpeace that’s looking at these issues. The Bank of England and other central banks have stated that climate change is a ‘mega risk’ and requires increased regulation of the banking and insurance sectors. The European Commission is setting the agenda on sustainable finance; we are monitoring developments closely.

What are the best things about working for the world’s most famous environmental advocates?

I’m in the enviable position to work with extremely smart and dedicated people. One of the huge advantages of working for Greenpeace is the ability to attract and retain incredible talent – it’s much easier than in commercial practice, even if the pay is incomparable. There are few legal jobs in the NGO sector and there is an overwhelming interest from the legal profession. People want to work for values rather than for profit.

The name Greenpeace opens a lot of doors in the legal world. We have strong ties with academia and work with law clinics at Yale, NorthWestern, Harvard, and the Amsterdam Law Schools. Take the case we have pending in Norway, a constitutional challenge against oil exploration in the Arctic. For this, we’ve had support of the Yale Human Rights law clinic in the form of an amicus brief. We have also welcomed amicus curiae briefs and expert witnesses in our Philippines human rights case, which looks into the accountability of the carbon majors for the human rights implications of climate change. As you see, academic collaboration is very important to us.

We also increasingly get support from large firms when it comes to pro bono legal support on various issues. I think there’s still room for improvement there but yes, it certainly helps to work for a global name like Greenpeace. In the past some of the larger firms have declined to work pro bono for us out of a perceived business conflict, for fear of losing out on business opportunities from the fossil fuel industry. However, the tide is turning and law firms increasingly take their own responsibility when it comes to human rights and climate change issues. They embrace the ‘do no harm’ principle and are more actively supporting NGOs. I see that as a positive development.

What advice would you have for a young environmental/human rights lawyer?

As said, there are few legal jobs in the NGO sector and competition is fierce. People who find jobs have a demonstrable track record that shows their professional skills as well as their commitment through causes. Young lawyers should build up experience through internships and hone their skills in private practice. I still think there is no better place to become a lawyer than at a law firm, but there are other places too where lawyers can build up their skills in a very demanding professional context.

Of course, you have to realise that there is no way to compete with the commercial sector in terms of salaries. It is always a dilemma for experienced lawyers. If they are in the commercial for too long, it turns into a golden cage. Work in private practice for as long as is needed to build your skills but don’t wait too long or you might get trapped. Alternatively, if you are in private practice and you do want to support the work that we do at NGOs, offer your services pro bono,  or serve on a board.

No one here doubts that the issues that we work on are acutely relevant for the future of our planet and for humanity as a whole. Climate change, biodiversity loss – if you are able to make a contribution towards addressing those threats; that is incredibly rewarding. No amount of money can match that. As a lawyer, it doesn’t get much better.

You can follow Greenpeace’s work on their website, on LinkedIn. If you have aspirations to join them, Greenpeace welcomes internships, and has a very strong intern talent pool. Greenpeace also welcome pro bono support. The bottom line is, you don’t have to work in an NGO to help protect the climate – there are lots of great opportunities for lawyers who want to work for good and not just for money.

The Legal Update Trending

Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For the Better 2019

Be they lawyers by day, legal superheroes by night or pro bono lawyers who are passionate about making the world a better place – each and every one of the lawyers below deserve recognition for outstanding legal efforts in their community and beyond. Most of them were nominated by colleagues, others by clients or by work partners. After our inaugural list of lawyers who are changing the world in 2018, the 2019 list is heavy on lawyers who deal with urgent crises threatening our society and our planet – climate change tops the list of urgent battles to be fought, but social mobility and diversity aren’t very far behind.

We could not include all the nominations but thank all of you who contacted us to recognise exceptional lawyers; we are in awe of the impressive nominations we received. Without further ado, here is the 2019 list of lawyers who are changing the world for the better.

Piya Muqit

Legal aid lawyer, Hong Kong

Lawyers who are changing the world

The executive director of the Justice Centre, a local non-profit organisation providing legal support to asylum-seekers in Hong Kong, Piya Muqit is the daughter of economic migrants who fled Bangladesh during the 1971 civil war to start a new life in Scotland. After serving as the head of policy and advocacy at UNICEF UK as well as senior legal adviser at Freedom From Torture, Piya Muqit raises awareness on issues concerning refugees in Hong Kong and presses for fairer legislation and policies. Her ambition is to expand the organisation into a regional NGO leader in human rights.

Victoria Anderson

Commercial lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Victoria Anderson is a solicitor in London who is passionate about education and diversity in the legal profession. After volunteering as a group leader for a student project at City Law School about social mobility and helping their local community, the project became a charity called Big Voice and she became CEO of Big Voice London. This social mobility charity seeks to engage young people from non-traditional backgrounds in law and legal policy. Big Voice London runs projects for young people each year, including: a Mooting Competition and introduction to the legal system in association with the UK Supreme Court, a summer school discussing growing topics of law, the country’s only Model Law Commission, plus seminars, workshops and lectures.

Rebecca Perlman

Pro bono lawyer, London (UK)

Blending business focus and corporate social responsibility, Rebecca Perlman’s job is to fight poverty and inequality – literally. While most law firms offer pro bono work to their lawyers as a side hustle, Rebecca Perlman harnessed her firm’s corporate connections and global reach to transform its pro bono work into a profit centre by supporting government and NGO initiatives in developing countries. She is also the director of the African Commercial Law Foundation, a trustee of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, a member of Oxfam’s Lawyers Against Poverty Steering Committee, co-founder of the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network, and a member of the European Banks Alliance Against Human Trafficking Expert Working Group.

Angela Hayes

White collar criminal lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

For a decade, Angela Hayes has provided invaluable pro bono support to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). This international NGO fights environmental crimes by conducting detailed investigations into activities such as illegal logging and wildlife trafficking, and by publishing its findings as reports. Angela Hayes, partner at a global law firm, plays a vital role reviewing these materials for potential defamation action. On the few occasions when EIA reports are challenged, Angela has given rapid and effective advice on how to respond, thereby ensuring the situation is resolved without developing into formal legal challenges (such as EIA being sued for libel). EIA’s investigations and reports make a demonstrable impact in curtailing environmental crime, for example triggering the recent arrest of major ivory tusk traffickers by the Chinese authorities.

Chris Daw

Fraud, regulatory and criminal barrister, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Social mobility is not often associated with barristers in the United Kingdom. After starring in a film on access to the profession for The One Show, Chris Daw became a role model for aspiring barristers from non-traditional backgrounds. By speaking up on social mobility, becoming a mentor and setting a mentoring campaign, he has made a real difference for lawyers from ‘ordinary’ backgrounds who thought they would never succeed in the legal profession.

Lauree Coci

Dispute lawyer, Perth (Australia)

Lawyers who are changing the world

In addition to being pro bono coordinator in the Perth office of her firm, Lauree Coci was recognised for her professional excellence and contribution to the legal profession and wider community at the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards in 2018. She was an early advocate for anti-slavery legislation in Australia, assisting Walk Free Foundation with submissions to the parliamentary inquiry and making recommendations to the Attorney-General’s Department to shape the Modern Slavery Act that came into effect in January 2019.

Sonya Bedford

Energy lawyer, Exeter (UK)

A partner and head of energy at her law firm, Sonya Bedford is passionate about renewable energies. Believing that renewable energy can take the UK to energy independence, she has been recognised for her renewable energy efforts in the southwest of England as a Community Energy Champion at the Community Energy Awards, Energy Champion at the Energy Institute Awards and Environmental Champion at the Devon Environmental Business Initiative Awards. From climbing wind turbines to supporting her village in going Carbon Zero, to hosting Facebook Live sessions and decorating her local green area in Exeter with mini windmills, her aim is to continuously raise awareness of climate change. She established the UK’s first grid consortium and grid sharing agreements for communities, and in 2018 was awarded an MBE for services to community energy.

Jennifer Chika Okafor

Lawyer, UK/Nigeria

Lawyers who are changing the world

Jennifer Chika Okafor is a solicitor who regularly offers her services free of charge to people within the African community. She has taken on many institutions and individuals and won on a paid or pro bono basis. Jenny is a Women’s rights advocate and activist. She is the founder of the Nigerian Women in Diaspora Leadership Forum (NWDLF), a group which helps women realise and utilise their leadership potential. Jenny is currently concentrating on women and girls rights issues with the aim of assisting them in finding their places in society early in life without fear and minimum difficulties. Under her leadership, the NWDLF has spearheaded the fight against child marriages in Nigeria.

Carroll Muffett

President and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, Washington D.C. (USA)

Lawyers who are changing the world

A recognised expert on the international law of wildlife and timber trade, Carroll Muffett is an outspoken advocate for the environment and has authored numerous articles and textbook chapters on national and international environmental policy and on the trade and environment debate. CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit organisation that uses the power of law to protect the environment, he is a leading voice in holding corporations accountable for climate change.

Sophie Marjanac

Company and financial/climate damage lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Passionate about the power of the law to protect people and the environment, Sophie Marjanac is project lead, Climate Accountability, for ClientEarth and was previously a senior lawyer in Australia where she specialised in environmental and planning law. She has also worked in the remote Torres Strait region, where she undertook litigation, negotiation and advocacy on behalf of Indigenous Australian landowners. At ClientEarth, she works on novel climate litigation strategies around the world with a particular focus on the risks of climate change to private actors and the intersection of environmental and corporate law.

Roda Verheyen

Environmental lawyer, Hamburg (Germany)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Specialising in environmental and international law, Roda Verheyen is a champion of climate justice in Germany. In 2002, she co-founded the Climate Justice Programme to support climate-related litigation worldwide. In 2017, she represented a Peruvian farmer and mountain guide Saul Luciano Lliuya in an appeal to the high regional court of Hamm against energy giant RWE (they won). In order to hold authorities accountable for climate change, she seeks compensation or stronger climate action through the courts and currently represents ten families in a lawsuit against EU institutions, dubbed the People’s Climate Case. She will argue in the European General Court that the EU must adopt a more ambitious 2030 climate target to defend their human rights – drawing on the UN assessment of the science.

Congratulations to the 2019 cohort – they are absolutely amazing and inspiring!

The Legal Update

Pride Month: Interview with Stephen O’Hare CEO of Transgender Equality Network Ireland

Ireland has been in the spotlight for its historic ‘Yes’ vote to repeal the 8th Amendment. It is yet another sign of enormous change in social attitudes in the Republic, which in the last decade has passed progressive pieces of legislation such as Civil Partnerships, Marriage Equality and the Gender Recognition Act, to name but three. With Pride Month upon us, we talk to Stephen O’Hare, a barrister and long-time human rights and LGBTQ activist, who has worked tirelessly to advocate for equal rights and enable legislative change.

While it’s still fresh in our minds, what was your response to the recent referendum result?

It was astounding, and it was clear it came from a real desire from the Irish people to vote for change, a desire that actually stretches back for some time, even before the marriage equality referendum [2015] and the long-overdue Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act [2013]. In the lead up the consensus was that it would be very difficult to elicit further change in this area without a change of attitude in the general population, but there obviously was a will to see much broader reform of the Constitution.

It was really interesting from my own personal view as I myself thought it would be close, If the exit poll had indicated it would be 51% for ‘No’, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The organisation and sheer amount of coverage from the ‘No’ side made it feel that they had it much more tied up in terms of campaigning. Luckily, there was a more private desire for change. The numbers who voted to repeal – 66.4% nationally, with every Dublin constituency coming in over 70% – it’s incredible to see that come from where we were back in 1983 [when the 8th Amendment was passed], 1992, and even 2002. It was such a divisive issue then so to get to those numbers from there, it’s stunning.

What do you think this tell us about Ireland in the broader context of gender and sexual equality for its citizens?

I think there are a couple of things at play.

One is in the demographics. We have a mobilised generation of young people who grew up in the 80s and 90s – in the 70s and 80s there was a very dominant conservative element still present (the referendum for the insertion of the 8th amendment carried 2 to 1) – now, those young people are in their 30s/40s and are very politically engaged. We then also have another generation coming up behind them who are driving social change so rapidly; they demand rights for themselves and on the behalf of their peers and don’t wait for it to be handed to them. Another aspect driving the progression of liberalisation of the social landscape was the Celtic Tiger of the 90s and 00s– Ireland went from being a poor country blighted by unemployment and high levels of poverty-driven crime, to a nation of home owners with disposable income; a country home to some of the world’s biggest tech companies and the high earning jobs that come with them. Then, in 2008 the global financial crash hit Ireland hard but by then the country was permanently changed; we had become more open, more reliant on foreign investment and had to align ourselves with the values of our neighbours. So with that comes change, first in the form of civil partnership – homosexuality was only decriminalised 18 years beforehand – and very quickly again after that the drive towards marriage equality began.

The other fact was the change of government. After a long period of the same party [Fianna Fáil] in charge we found ourselves with a coalition of centre-right Fine Gael, and the centre-left Labour Party who, as a progressive agenda minority party with a limited fiscal portfolio began pressing hard on social issues such as children’s rights and marriage equality. I was working with the Irish Council of Civil Liberties at the time – and I remember there being doubts that Ireland would support same-sex marriage, but as we later saw it passed overwhelmingly and the sky didn’t fall in! We’ve had the Gender Recognition Act (2015), which allows people to legally change their gender – and again, the sky didn’t fall in. And now our current Taoiseach is a gay man of immigrant parentage. When you look back it is progress of a startling nature, but it also but feels inevitable given the way that Irish people now view themselves.

The next step after repeal is legislating for access to abortion – Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) are advocating for inclusive language to be used throughout legislation e.g. referring to people rather than women. What has been the response on this so far?

To be honest I think we are very much pushing an open door on that – the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has given positive signals on this issue. Of course we aim to ensure that language in any legislation post the 2015 Gender Recognition Act is inclusive of trans people, and in this case to avoid any language that would in some way bar trans people from accessing abortion services. But I think it is very much the intention of government to ensure that this will be considered in the final wording – with a little help.

You’ve been a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights and equality across the social spectrum in Ireland for many years…

Yes – I’ve worked in the NGO sector for about 13 years, and that evolved from my educational background.  Having studied political science and social research I was aware of a whole range of social issues and equality matters that I felt passionately about. Since then I’ve been lucky to work in some very cutting edge organisations – I started out with ageing and issues affecting older people, and I’ve also worked with Pavee Point who advocate for the rights of Irish travellers, an ethnic minority who remain extremely marginalised both here and in Europe. These kinds of issues are important but can be unpopular so, for NGOs there’s often lots of behind the scenes awareness raising and educational work going on. In 2010, I joined the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. There, we were covering such a range of areas and campaigns relating to Ireland’s international human rights obligations, including the rights of minority groups, hate crime and reproductive rights.  I was doing a lot of work in advocacy and policy so I felt I needed to bolster my knowledge and experience. With the support of ICCL I began my legal training and I qualified as a barrister. I had to work it around my job so it meant studying in the evenings, and at that time we had just started a family, just bought and moved into a house so there was a lot going on! Through the ICCL I got involved in advocacy for LGBTQ rights and worked with many different organisations. By far one of the most impressive organisation working quietly under the radar for the recognition of trans people, which culminated in the landmark Gender Recognition Act 2015, was Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), and that’s where I very fortunately find myself today.

Explain the role of TENI in supporting people who identify as trans – what are the main issues they are facing?

TENI does a lot of advocacy and policy work, but we also focus on other areas, including individual support, employment practices, education and access to health services.  We work with schools and education centres directly to help them to understand how to facilitate a person in transition and those identifying as trans. So for example, if an individual is transitioning but is in a single sex school and wishes to remain there we work with the school to find supportive solutions. It is an active struggle – the Catholic Church owns and manages about 90% of schools in Ireland, which frames a certain ethos regarding LGBTQ people. While management in many schools is often very supportive and open to the issues, there can be an underlying religious conservative ethos to contend with. By and large, however, the work we do is very effective.

We also provide direct support to the families involved, as part of a wrap-around approach to ensure that the trans person is getting support everywhere they need it – at home, at school, among peers, at work . We work with employers to create trans inclusive policies in work, so that trans people can continue to live their lives confidently and with minimal explanation.

Health and wellbeing is one of the most significant issues that people who identify as trans face in this country – getting access to appropriate healthcare, be that access to mental health services, hormone therapy, or surgery is challenging. TENI aims to improve health services by working proactively with the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) where we can. We want to help them move to place where they see the benefit of funding dedicated trans services, not just in one location but regionally. There is a long way to go to see that model in place but change is slowly happening– we’ve just had the announcement of 9 new positions for dedicated trans care. There is, however, still a very long waiting list for healthcare and this is extremely frustrating for trans people awaiting appointments.

Pride Month is upon us – what do you have planned? Why is it so important for people across the LGBTQ community to be involved?

Would you believe, this year is my first ‘official’ Pride. I’ve long worked on LGBTQ issues and have a great number of colleagues and friends in the community. I’ve attended the GALA Awards for LGBTQ activists a few times, which is a great introduction to community, but this is the first time I’ll be properly involved in Pride. We’re very excited for our chair Sara R Phillips, a brilliant trans activist who helped to secure the Gender Recognition Act, as she is going to be the Grand Marshal for Dublin Pride this year. It’s one of the very few times that a trans person has led the parade, and TENI being front and centre is great. That’s visibility personified – trans people not just being seen as part of the LGBTQ community but also the wider Dublin community.

Pride is important for celebration and visibility but also in terms of reminding ourselves of the work on going.   My experience over the last 10 years has seen civil society coming together very ably to push forward on issues of equality, including trans rights. There is solidarity here. Ireland is regularly examined by the UN and other international treaty bodies, so it has become very common, almost on a yearly basis, for NGOs to travel and lobby human rights committees and government officials with the civil society voice, and then message back to media. Our civil society seems to be very good at doing that. By comparison, the trans community appears to be a little bit under attack in the UK, particularly in its media narrative of late. Even though their rights are legislatively settled, this is being questioned in civil society, and there is a level of resistance to further improve the circumstances for trans people that we don’t see as much of here.

Are you surprised at the difference in debate on trans rights between Ireland and the UK?

Yes, it is worrying from our point of view – in Ireland we consume a lot of British media, and ideas carry further on social media, so we want to see progressive change across water and we have to resist that narrative coming here. We are so connected to the UK in so many ways, and let’s not forget we are by no means as diverse as the UK. But at the same time, Ireland has found its voice and wants to be seen as progressive, attracting investment and tourism as a result. In my view, Irish people actively want to break away from the old oppressive conservative identity and there is much less of a desire to roll back on social progress and openness to change. I think that’s very different to what we are seeing in the UK with questions around European human rights law.

But as I’ve said, young people are the driving force for progress. While social media does have its problems, what with disinformation and giving legitimacy to regressive narratives, it has also given people more of a voice for social change and to challenge injustices. Based on what we’ve seen recently, one is hopeful that the voice for change is winning out. Ireland has come a long way but we still have a way to go, so our work goes on. I’m grateful to be part of it.

Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Political Science (2004) and Master’s degree in Applied Social Research (2005) from Trinity College Dublin. In 2015, he completed the Barrister-at-Law degree at the Honorable Society of King’s Inns. Prior to his current role, Stephen worked as Senior Research and Policy Programme Manager with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), as Policy and Research Officer with Pavee Point, the national Traveller and Roma organisation; Research Officer with the National Council on Ageing and Older People and Consultant Researcher for the Health Services Executive (HSE).

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Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For the Better 2018

Many of us dream of making the world a better place , but how can lawyers use their skills to give back to the community? For some, their passion becomes their area of expertise. Others decide to use their legal skills for other societal goals. Regardless of their motivation, they all strive to create a positive impact on society. as Professor Maria Fletcher from the University of Glasgow says, rebellious lawyers need skills of “resilience, empathy and community” to challenge the status quo and help those who need it most. As Obelisk Support embarks on a year-long journey to become a Responsible Business with Heart of the City, we look up to lawyers who are changing the world for the better. Discover our 2018 list below, as well as our lists for 2019 and 2020 on the blog.

Lewis Pugh

Maritime Lawyer, UN Patron of the Oceans (Cape Town, South Africa)

A British-South African maritime lawyer, Lewis Pugh decided to give a voice to the oceans and marine life in need the most protection by swimming in his Speedos. Completing endurance swims in the coldest waters on the planet, he used his feats as publicity stunts to start conversations with world leaders on ocean protection. In 2013, the United Nations appointed him as the first “UN Patron of the Oceans.”  In 2016, he helped negotiate the creation of the largest protected area in the world in the Ross Sea off Antarctica.

Shamnad Basheer

IP Lawyer, Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (Bangalore, India)

Shamnad Basheer is an Indian legal scholar who founded Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) to Legal Education – working to make legal education accessible for underprivileged students in India, battling upper caste stereotypes in the legal world. As of 2017, 250 students have been trained and 89 have got into law schools, with their fees paid by IDIA. Among these are children of stonecutters, farmers, small shopkeepers and construction labourers – many have an income of only Rs 70,000 per year (£855). They include 21 women, 23  disabled – including some visually impaired – students – and 29 students from lower castes.

Yetnebersh Nigussie

Human Rights Lawyer, Center for Students with Disabilities (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Yetnebersh Nigussie, a blind lawyer, reacts at her office in Addis Ababa, on October 11, 2017.
Blind Ethiopian activist Yetnebersh Nigussie, who won Right Livelihood Award for her work promoting the rights of people with disabilities, fights for equal rights for the disabled, AFP reports October 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Zacharias ABUBEKER (Photo credit should read ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Yetnebersh Nigussie is an Ethiopian lawyer working for human rights based on her own experience of being discriminated against, coming from a “developing country,” being young, a woman – and blind. She is fearlessly pushing for women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive education and a vibrant civil society. In 2005, she founded the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD), along with other prominent Ethiopians, to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in different development programmes including economic empowerment. In September 2017, Yetnebersh Nigussie was named a joint winner of the Right Livelihood Award, the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” sharing the honor with Khadija Ismayilova, Colin Gonsalves, and American environmental lawyer Robert Bilott.

Jennifer Robinson

Human Rights Lawyer, International Lawyers for West Papua (London, UK)

Jennifer Robinson is an Australian human rights lawyer who is best known for her work as a pro bono legal adviser to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and founded International Lawyers for West Papua. The latter is helping West Papuans get the right to self-determination, calling on the UN to oversee a new independence referendum after Indonesia organised a contested referendum in 1969. For West Papuans, independence would mean the survival of an entire culture and the preservation of the world’s third-largest rainforest. Jennifer Robinson was named a National Pro Bono Hero in 2008 by the UK Attorney General and the inaugural Young Alumni of the Year by the Australian National University in 2013.

Zannah Mustapha

Lawyer, The Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (Maidiguri, Nigeria)

Lawyer Zannah Mustapha, mediator for Chibok girls, speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in Abuja, Nigeria May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde – RTS15PET

Zannah Mustapha, a Nigerian lawyer and teacher who negotiated and helped secure the release of more than 100 schoolgirls from Chibok kidnapped by the Boko Haram militant group received the annual Nansen Refugee Award, one of the United Nations’ top awards on January 29, 2018. Mustapha’s The Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School in Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno state and the centre of Boko Haram violence, stayed open through the insurgency and now provides education to more than 500 students. His school took in children of Nigerian Army soldiers as well as of Boko Haram militants.

Morris Dees

Civil Rights Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center (Montgomery, AL, USA)

WASHINGTON – JULY 10: Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center speaks about hate crimes at the National Press Club on July 10, 2009 in Washington, DC. Mr. Dees spoke about the recent attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The son of an Alabama farmer, Morris Dees grew up in Klan country, in an area cut off from interstates, at a time when whites held land and blacks worked fields and cotton gins. In 1971, he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that fights for the rights of women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, migrants, homeless people, prisoners, immigrants. It became best known for fighting for integration and against Jim Crow laws; helping minority defendants, some of whom were sitting on death row; and going to bat against the Ku Klux Klan.

Lotfi Maktouf

Corporate Lawyer, Almadanya Foundation (Tunis, Tunisia)

Tunisian lawyer, graduate of Tunis, Paris Sorbonne and Harvard law schools, Lofti Maktouf created the Almadanya Foundation in 2014 after the Tunisian Revolution. Almadanya, which means « the civil » in reference to the civil society, is dedicated to issues around development, education and protection of the environment. Working in partnership with the public and private sector Almadanya designs, finances and implements in Tunisia several innovative programs from school transportation in rural areas, funding of driving license, reforestation in arid and semi-arid regions, to the creation and update of municipal websites and management of art professions’ classification.

Peter Chang

Lawyer, Hong Fook Mental Health Association (Thornhill, Canada)

Dr. Peter Chang was recently appointed to the Order of Ontario for improving access to mental health services for Ontario’s East Asian communities. He established the Hong Fook Mental Health Association in 1982 to provide culturally-sensitive services in five Asian languages, and the Hong Fook Mental Health Foundation in 2001 to address the stigma of mental illness. Graduating from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, he started his career in psychiatry in 1969 and qualified as a psychiatrist in Canada in 1973.  After attending the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto in 1989, he articled at Borden & Elliot (now Borden Ladner Gervais), and started his own law practice. In addition to Hong Fook, he also volunteered with many charities and non-profit organisations.

Julian McMahon

Criminal Lawyer, Reprieve Australia (Melbourne, Australia)

Julian McMahon, a Melbourne barrister, has been appointed a companion of the Order of Australia in 2017 for his dedication to defending human rights, in particular advocating for defendants facing the death penalty. A fierce abolitionist and anti-death penalty advocate, McMahon is the president of Reprieve Australia, a non-profit that develops legal and policy solutions that aim to save prisoners on death row. His work has raised public awareness globally of the death penalty, as more and more countries abolish capital punishment.

Kate Zimmermann

Environmental Lawyer, National Wildlife Federation (Colorado, US)

Kate Zimmerman, a pillar of the Colorado conservation community, was the public lands policy director at the National Wildlife Federation, where she worked on conservation issues in the Rocky Mountain area. Zimmerman’s love for the environment bred success in her career as an environmental lawyer and as a wildlife advocate, and she played a key role in the changing of federal regulations to strengthen the protection of air, land, water and wildlife. She passed away on January 18, 2018.

Marie Shaw

QC, Ice Factor Program (Adelaide, Australia)

Marie Shaw with her daughter

Former District Court judge Marie Shaw, QC founded the Ice Factor, a unique program in Australia that targets “at risk” or disadvantaged youth to help them achieve at school via ice hockey at a rink where paying users help support the Ice Factor program. To raise awareness for The Ice Factor, she is a regular guest speaker on at-risk youth and has created a new Ice Factor program for students with special needs and disabilities.

Jacq and Jacque Wilson

Personal Injury Attorney and Senior Trial Attorney, Advocates For Justice (Modesto, CA, USA)

Jacq and Jacque Wilson, advocates for Justice receive the Living the Dream Award.

Twin brothers Jacq and Jacque Wilson, winners of the Living the Dream Award of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (San Francisco Bay Area), started Advocates for Justice in 2006 to help fight discrimination in Modesto County, where the pair grew up and saw the impact of unjust policies firsthand. Since its founding, AFJ has provided legal representation, mentoring, counselling and other forms of support to Modesto’s students of colour and their families.

Dana Denis-Smith

Lawyer, First Hundred Years (London, UK)

Former solicitor at Linklaters, Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, founded the First 100 Years project in 2014 to document the untold stories of women who have shaped the legal profession since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers in the United Kingdom. Though the act also allowed women to sit as magistrates, sit on juries, and receive degrees from university on completion of study, their names have all but disappeared from history books and public archives. The First 100 Years aims to inspire future generations of female lawyers and to promote gender equality in the legal profession.

Allison Stocker

Commercial Lawyer, Ability Housing (Jacksonville, FL, USA)


A lawyer at Akerman LLP, Allison Stocker recently received The Florida Bar’s 2018 “Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award” for doing more than 500 hours of pro bono work. She aided the legal efforts by the nonprofit Ability Housing to purchase and renovate an area apartment building to create permanent housing for disabled homeless veterans.

Who would you like to nominate as lawyer changing the world for the better?

Email us your nominations at [email protected]