Bar Pro Bono Award Winners 2018

Mary Dobson introduces the winners in the newly expanded Bar Pro Bono Awards

 

Public recognition of those who play a part in pro bono is important, not just to inspire others but also to celebrate the significant time given and impact of pro bono, whether that helps one deserving individual with a unique case, or assists large numbers of people, sometimes at a national level.

Leaders of the Bar including the Lord Chief Justice, Secret Barrister, Chair of the Bar and Director of the Law Centres Network met to assess over 40 nominations in the 2018 Bar Pro Bono Awards, in the newly expanded nine categories. The quality of nominations was exceptionally high and the full booklet of nominations is a truly enjoying, humbling and inspiring read.

Look out for the stories of barristers and clerks helping with the vital work of the Mencap learning disability legal network as well as four years’ pro bono support given by two barristers to help a survivor of torture in Ethiopia to receive fair criminal injuries compensation, after being seriously assaulted in this country while protecting his friend from a mugging. There are also many nominations relating to cases undertaken pro bono which have resulted in substantive changes, whether that’s ensuring those who have been wrongly categorised as self-employed are able to bring claims for holiday pay, or the scrapping of the notorious ‘same roof’ rule.

Two junior barristers were noted as Highly Commended by the judging panel; Toby Brown of South Square and Rebecca Murray of Temple Tax Chambers. Toby was recognised for his dedication to a range of pro bono projects; his behind-the-scenes roles as a trustee for the Access to Justice Foundation and as Chair of the wider Pro Bono Week organising committee, alongside the undertaking of pro bono work through Advocate. Rebecca was applauded for her work devising a pro bono scheme in the Tax Tribunals as well as taking on significant pro bono cases herself.

Lord Goldsmith QC, as Chair of the Judging Panel, also recognised Clare Renton of 29 Bedford Row, as the barrister who took the highest number of pro bono cases through Advocate in 2017.

Sir Henry Brooke Award

Chair of the Bar 2018, Andrew Walker QC announced a very special award being given by Advocate at the Bar Conference: the Sir Henry Brooke Award, created to recognise outstanding contribution to access to justice. In future years it will be given only if a deserving recipient is identified by the awards judging panel in association with Advocate.

This year the award could only be given to the late Sir Henry Brooke; a man with indefatigable dedication throughout his life to equal access to justice for all. He spoke movingly at the 2017 Bar Conference, generating that event’s first and last spontaneous standing ovation. The Guardian called him ‘a tireless campaigner for improving access to justice’, and he was a patron of Prisoners Abroad, the Public Law Project, Harrow Law Centre and several other justice organisations. His death provoked a public outpouring of condolences from across the legal sector, recognising the energy he brought to access to justice and pro bono work, and the real loss that his departure therefore meant for wider civil society and especially for those who turn to our justice system for redress.

Mary Dobson is Head of Fundraising and Communications at Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit): weareadvocate.org.uk


Kirsty Brimelow QC

International Pro Bono Barrister of the Year

When did you start taking pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

I’ve been working pro bono all my life without realising it. When I was a child I wanted to save all things cute, fluffy and magical. I gathered signatures for petitions and wrote letters to stop seal pup culls and ban whaling. As a university student, I fundraised and took deprived inner city kids on holiday. As a barrister I advised charities, spent eight years on the Criminal Bar Association Executive and have just completed 15 years working for the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC). It is difficult to balance pro bono work with a busy QC practice and a personal life. I am not driven by money and I always make sure I have some time ring-fenced for family, friends and myself. Otherwise, I feel that my head would explode!

What insights has such work yielded?

I know not to eat Nigerian Pepper soup! I also am a much better person as a result of the diversity of people I meet.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

BHRC strategises at the start of the year as to the human rights it will prioritise. It also reacts to urgent requests. Personally, my fact findings in country have influenced my selection; the struggles of people in Colombia, Nigeria and Iran and the plight of children around the globe are close to my heart.

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

Making a difference. And working in Colombia means that I have become a pretty good salsa dancer.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

Its toll on having any life outside work.

Is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

Social media and the development of the internet highlights global responsibility for people, the environment, the planet. We can no longer say that ‘it isn’t my job’.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I studied for my A levels in a tree.

What does the award mean to you personally?

I see the award as a recognition of all who work tirelessly for the BHRC. But – secretly – I am pretty chuffed.


Marianne Alton

Young Pro Bono Barrister of the Year

When did you start taking on pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

In 2014 a Kalisher scholarship enabled me to spend six months on a capital cases project in Uganda. The project had a lasting impact on my commitment to pro bono work. I take weeks out of my diary every year to work on pro bono projects and am indebted to my clerks for making it work.

What insights has such work yielded?

Challenges within the criminal justice system are often interconnected and span the entire criminal process from investigation to final appeal. Taking a holistic approach is often necessary to address specific problems.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

I am a founding member of charity Evolve – Foundation for International Legal Assistance. Its aims are to improve access to justice, build capacity within the legal profession and promote fairness, efficiency and integrity within the criminal justice system of Uganda. The work is varied, from advising the judiciary on a training and mentoring scheme to working on submissions on capital cases.

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

The work is enormously rewarding. As one of our Ugandan volunteers recently said to me – to see someone who has been wrongly subjected to a death sentence released and reunited with their family makes the work so worthwhile.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

Managing it alongside my practice; particularly when there are deadlines to be met both in Manchester and Kampala!

Is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

Definitely – because of a lack of resources and investment in the justice system (both at home and abroad).

What would people be surprised to know about you?

The brunt of my admin is organised by my mother – who is also a fan of pro bono work!

What does the Award mean to you personally?

I was absolutely delighted to win. The award is a wonderful way of encouraging and recognising the pro bono work undertaken by the junior Bar. All the nominees are doing incredibly impressive work.


Cloisters

Pro Bono Chambers of the Year

When did you start taking on pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

Adam Ohringer: I became involved with the Free Representation Unit while at Bar school. I have since seen it as an integral part of my practice.

Joel Donovan QC: I started doing evening advice sessions at North Islington Law Centre when I was a trainee solicitor. It frightens me how clueless I was then. I think pro bono is more about priority-setting than about finding time. However senior or junior you are, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

What insights has such work yielded?

AO: It’s miserable having to embark on legal action without professional support. Its wholly unrealistic to expect people to be able to enforce their legal rights on their own.

JD: It has forced me to bone up on areas outside my comfort zone. Within that zone, a particular highlight for us was our Supreme Court victory in Mohamud v W M Morrison Supermarkets.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

AO: This type of selection is very difficult. Ultimately it comes down to identifying the cases where I think I can contribute the most.

JD: The Cloisters juniors have a fantastic commitment to pro bono work – as our award recognises – and will involve me and our other Silks where appropriate.

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

AO: We do it because it needs to be done. Sometimes that give rise to a sense of satisfaction, sometimes not. It really doesn’t matter.

JD: … but on the whole righting wrongs for people who are at the bottom of the heap is hugely rewarding. I recommend it.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

AO: It is emotionally draining. Most clients are vulnerable people in a desperate situation. I wish I had infinite inner resources to draw on, but I don’t; so I have to pace myself.

JD: At the end of the day, the bills do have to be paid.

Is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

AO: My area of expertise is employment law. Few employment laws are enforced by government and, with the decline in union membership and the atomisation of the workforce, it is simply down to individual workers to fight for themselves. If individuals cannot enforce their rights, then even the fairest laws exist on paper only.

JD: Access to justice is under sustained attack. It is not just the shameful evisceration of legal aid, but also the government’s warped funding priorities. At a time when courts up and down the land are either closing their doors or falling apart, the MOJ is devoting vast sums to the City of London Combined Court project. I am still hoping it will go the way of the Garden Bridge.

What does the Award mean to you personally?

AO: If the rule of law is to be upheld, while the government considers funding of legal services to be an optional extra, then pro bono work is necessary. I’m afraid that is what it has come to.

JD: This is a splendid accolade for all Cloisters barristers – particularly for Adam, our Pro Bono Champion; our individual nominees, Navid Pourghazi and David Massarella; and for our endlessly supportive staff. If it doesn’t sound too patrician: I am immensely proud of them all.


Sarah Keogh

Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year

When did you start taking on pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

From pupillage I represented children with special educational needs in tribunals. I now undertake work aligned with my employment law and professional regulatory practice, one case at a time alongside regular advice sessions at Central London Employment Tribunal.

What insights has such work yielded?

Access to expert advice can be beneficial at any stage of a claim or appeal. It is just as important to advise that proposed proceedings lack merit as it is to support those claims one hopes will be successful.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

I select cases in my specialist areas where I can best offer assistance, and give higher priority to vulnerable and marginalised individuals.

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

It is hugely rewarding to see the positive impact it can have on a person’s life to have someone in their corner and listening after struggling through the legal system on their own.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

Some pro bono clients will need a greater level of support to navigate complex procedural rules and meet deadlines. I’m lucky to have clerks who provide invaluable practical assistance to keep everything on track.

Is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

In an ideal world free legal assistance would be available where needed in all areas of our court system. Pro bono is regrettably essential to fill the growing gap between reduced legal aid and increased requirements on litigants.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I write science fiction and used to perform and compete as an aerial acrobat.

What does the Award mean to you personally?

Receiving the Award was an honour and a complete surprise. There is such good work being done across the Bar and I’m proud to have played a part in that.


Patrick O’Connor QC, Doughty Street Chambers

Lifetime Achievement

When did you start taking on pro bono work?

In 1976. R v Stanley Abbott was a Privy Council appeal in a brutal murder case from Trinidad. We lost the point of law about ‘duress’ in murder by a 3-2 majority. This was harrowing. Mr Abbott was executed.

Has pro bono work ever caused you a problem?

In the 1970s, a senior coroner accused me of unprofessional commitment to the bereaved, precisely because I was acting pro bono. Thankfully, for some years now, judges and coroners have been better trained.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

I focus upon areas where the normal legal process is failing. Inquests into deaths in police or prison custody normally involve, for the bereaved, a grossly unfair deficit of 
information and legal and financial resources as against the other parties.

Do you think pro bono work is becoming more important in wider society today? If so, why?

When our Supreme Court finds it necessary to give a basic lesson to the Lord Chancellor about the public interest in the rule of law and individual rights, we are in serious trouble: see Unison v Lord Chancellor [2017] UKSC 51 at paras 66-73. Under the cloak of neo-liberal austerity, the state has abandoned any pretence at access to justice for all citizens. This is deeply corrosive. Pro bono work and resurrecting the true meaning of the ‘rule of law’ should be our united response.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am half German and half Irish. I am not sure I have always kept this ‘sturm und drang’ between rationality and passion in perfect balance.

What does the Award mean to you personally?

Well, I am not taking it as an implied ‘Thank you and good night’ to my career or to any more paid work at all. I am proud to represent the vast majority of the Bar, who constantly and selflessly put the interests of justice, and of their clients, above their own: but I am only a representative.


Jamie Goldsmith, Pro Bono Connect

Pro Bono Innovation of the Year

When did you start taking on pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

From 2009 I did several large trials – incredibly rewarding but very time consuming. I started Pro Bono Connect to match barristers and solicitors and make pro bono work easier and more efficient. That now accounts for most of my pro bono time. We have 55 participating firms and chambers.

What insights has such work yielded and has this changed how you think?

Why lawyers take on pro bono cases: for the greater good, for the good of their soul, or to help their career. I don’t mind provided lawyers give the same time and dedication as for a paying client.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

Our scheme covers most types of civil cases. I tend to choose cases that are within my sphere of practice albeit often at the far reaches!

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

It is hugely rewarding. Every time we successfully match barristers and solicitors, the pro bono client gets a great team; the same kind of legal representation as paying clients. They are so grateful for the often life-changing assistance provided.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

For barristers, it is doing work that you are not used to, like taking evidence or preparing bundles (we are not very good at that, however demanding we can be). For solicitors, it is tasks they may be less familiar with, like drafting pleadings.

Is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

With the legal aid cuts and increasing costs of litigation, it is vital for lawyers to do pro bono work. For the clients, for the courts and for society. The rule of law matters. Professional legal assistance is the best way of upholding it.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I often believe that the client’s cause is best served by not going to court and avoiding the time and stress by resolving the dispute constructively.

What does the Award mean to you personally?

I am thrilled. But what I really hope is that it helps the scheme grow further: to attract more participants and more cases and provided a better service all round.


Daria Gleyze

Employed Pro Bono Barrister of the Year

When did you start taking on pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

I started during my second six in chambers, then continued in my employed practice. In the Civil Service we get a few paid days every year for pro bono, which I take mostly for court hearings, as they always take place during core work hours. In addition to that, I take some annual leave or do the prep and advisory work in the evenings or over weekends. With good time management, it can be done without sacrificing too much of my personal life.

What insights has such work yielded?

I have had a variety of clients, from vulnerable people with mental disabilities, or who could not speak English, to small business owners. The top insight I gained was that having someone they trust to put their case in legal language and stand up for them in court can be just as important as winning the case. Recently, one of my clients lost a difficult-to-prove case but was over the moon with the fact that, with my help, he was able to argue his case in detail and make the most of his day in court.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

I do my work through Advocate. They have an amazing team which makes life easy for volunteers. All you have to do is log in and go through a list of cases arranged by area of law and seniority required. I go for commercial and property (especially landlord and tenant) cases, as these are my areas.

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

My favourite part is seeing the difference that I make to my clients’ lives. In some cases, I first advise the client and can confirm only later that I am able to represent them in court. Their relief and the positive change in their mental wellbeing are visible once I confirm that I can continue to help.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

Treading the fine line of what is ‘conducting litigation’, which I am not allowed to do, and what is permitted assistance. In my view, the rules on conducting litigation are insufficiently accommodating of, or clear for, litigants in person represented by barristers. For example, I am not allowed to serve documents on the other side (subject to a potential, and unhelpfully muddled, exception), although I could easily DX them. Instead, my clients, who are impecunious and mostly vulnerable, are expected to initiate and pay for service.

How is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

Definitely. Cuts to funding for justice in the past years have meant that a significant number of people are facing substantive claims and forced to make or respond to sophisticated legal arguments on their own. They risk losing their homes or their sanity over them. Given that I am employed by the government and given some paid leave to do pro bono, I always joke that I am bringing in legal aid by the back door.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Once upon a time, I was the President of the University College London juggling society (appropriately named ‘Balls!’, with the president informally known as the ‘Master of Balls’). I could juggle large knives and clubs set on fire. I once even had an interview with border police as to what I was doing with what looked like scimitars in my luggage. That was my juggling equipment!

What does the Award mean to you personally?

I am grateful and humbled to receive this award and hope that it will inspire many more employed barristers, especially those in the Civil Service, to take up pro bono opportunities


Deborah Anderson

Pro Bono Chambers’ Staff Member of the Year

When did you start taking on pro bono work and how do you balance it all time-wise?

For many years as a clerk I have had dealings with the excellent Bar Pro Bono unit (now Advocate) allocating cases to volunteer members of chambers. I started volunteering myself at Waterloo Legal Advice Service (WLAS) around 15 years ago. A call for volunteers came via the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks and, living in Waterloo, I couldn’t think of a reason not to volunteer. I roped in lots of friends to put together a rota of those willing to help out (including Sandie Smith who is still keeping the faith with me). I am still doing this today.

What insights has such work yielded?

Working both in chambers and WLAS has made me appreciate the commitment that many barristers and solicitors give to pro bono clients, not only to the high profile ‘law changing’ case but also the rarely acknowledged legion of small matters which are vital to clients. It is disappointing to hear lawyers so often referred to as ‘fat cats’ when many are unsung heroes giving over their personal time and professional skills willingly without payment.

How do you select the pro bono work you do?

I don’t really select the pro bono work I do – it is just there so I continue to do it. I often say that the advice centre is a bit like Stockholm Syndrome.

What personal satisfactions do you derive from such work?

I don’t have the legal skills to help those in need of advice or representation but there is a satisfaction in being able to provide administrative backup to those who are able to help, even if I may sometimes look like I am doing it through gritted teeth.

What is the greatest challenge of taking on pro bono?

For members of chambers we have to balance their enthusiasm for pro bono activities with their paid practices. This is particularly relevant to the junior end of chambers who are unlikely to have a financial cushion to fall back on while still having many financial responsibilities and suffering often extensive delays in being paid by clients in both private and legal aid matters.

How is pro bono becoming more important to society today?

Pro bono assistance is desperately important due to the continuing and growing restrictions on legal aid added to the overall reduction of other funded organisations. The calls to assist Advocate are growing and client numbers at WLAS have also increased over the years, from around 35 clients on a Thursday to 100 upwards. This has meant that, reluctantly, the service has had to limit the postcodes dealt with to ensure that it doesn’t simply collapse under the strain of numbers.

What does the Award mean to you personally?

Having been mortified to find out I had been nominated, I was absolutely thrilled to win and everyone has been incredibly generous to me. However, the truth is I have been awarded for swanning around whilst everyone else does the work. The award should go to all the members of chambers at Hardwicke who volunteer to take on the cases, the advisor team at Waterloo led by James McGregor, and the receptionists who really are at the coal face.

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Mary Dobson

 Head of Fundraising and Communications at Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit): weareadvocate.org.uk