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A plea for more pro bono work

Latest PostA plea for more pro bono work

As I write this article, I anticipate that the majority, if not all of the readers will have undertaken some form of pro bono work within the last twelve months. In fact, Advocate, the Bar’s pro bono charity proports to work with over 4,500 barristers, over a quarter of the number of barristers in England and Wales.

With so many barristers taking time out to provide unpaid voluntary assistance, one might ask why I am writing to ask you to offer your time to assist? Simply put, despite all the amazing work that is done on a voluntary basis every year, there still remains an enormous amount of work which requires legal representation and sadly not enough members of the Bar to cover it.

The other week, I received an email from Advocate listing cases which they required assistance on. These ranged from a father in the High Court seeking to oppose the international relocation of his son to “an unsafe country” to a victim of a crime who sought to appeal a compensation award made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. This was only a brief glimpse into the number of cases throughout England and Wales where individuals, usually litigants in person are fighting what is an incredibly difficult uphill battle with little to no legal assistance.

This article isn’t designed to be a lecture or to guilt trip you into volunteering yourself into pro bono work, rather I want to encourage readers to get involved with pro bono work either for the first time or to further assist through other means. I accept and readily acknowledge that we all have busy competing practices and that whilst we would like to volunteer for a case or two, we’re not necessarily able to do so. However, your assistance doesn’t necessarily have to require you to attend Court.

For example, there is the ability for those more experienced at the Bar to mentor junior members of the bar who are working on pro bono cases. This is extremely beneficial where a junior barrister is looking to volunteer on a case which involves elements they are not familiar, especially if they are looking to volunteer on a case which is perhaps outside the scope of their usual practice area.

Likewise, for those of you reading this article who are pupil supervisors, pro bono work is a fantastic way for pupils to cut their teeth into cases which they would perhaps not get the opportunity to experience during the early years of their practice.

Whilst there is no monetary reward for undertaking pro bono work it does make a tremendous difference, especially for those who you are able to assist and represent. In most cases, those who you represent are just grateful to have had the equality of arms of being represented in Court and having their case properly argued. For example, earlier this year I represented a father who was a refugee and who had no recourse to public funds. Whilst we were not able to necessarily secure the result he had hoped for at Court, he was extremely grateful for the fact that someone had volunteered and offered their time to ensure his voice and his case were properly heard and put to the Court, especially when the other party had been represented throughout proceedings.

Later this year, the 23rd annual Pro Bono Week will take place from the 4th to the 8th November 2024. I would therefore invite you to volunteer or mentor in a pro bono capacity prior to this date or to undertake some pro bono work during Pro Bono Week.

Alternatively, if you’re unable to commit to volunteering or assisting on a pro bono case during this time, why not see if you can do something to raise money for the many fantastic pro bono charities? The work done by charities such as Advocate, Not Beyond Redemption, and many others relies on donations and fundraising to continue operating3. Anything to raise funds to support and continue the fantastic work that these organisations and others do is greatly appreciated.

It goes without saying that a lot of cases which come before us requiring pro bono assistance are ones which could and should be properly represented if access to justice and funding such as legal aid was made much more readily available. However, given the current state of public finances, it would be wishful things to presume that the issue of an underfunded justice system is likely to be resolved any time soon. Until then, pro bono work will continue to be an important part of ensuring that those who are desperately seeking access to justice will obtain it. In that time, it’s vital that we all play a part in making sure that we continue represent those as many as we’re able to do so.

Adam Singh Hayer, Barrister, Unit Chambers

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