Young Pro Bono Barrister of the Year

Winner: Daniel Grütters (One Pump Court Chambers) Call 2017

As I believe is not uncommon, I moved to the Bar in my thirties after having worked in a variety of other roles. In those positions, my focus was predominantly on (public) international law, which – while interesting – is often an elusive area of law with a dearth of enforcement. What attracted me to a career at the (public law) Bar was the potential of dealing with similarly interesting cases while helping to achieve concrete results for my clients.

For me, that potential has been actualised. In my housing practice, clients either get to keep their home or are given one. In my immigration practice, clients either get to stay in a safe place or are reunited with their families in one. In my civil liberties and human rights practice, clients who have been wronged by the State are granted respite and compensation. I feel very privileged to play a small part in this work and, along the way, to get to make interesting legal arguments and grapple with complex and oft evolving law.

Another reason I was attracted to a career at the self-employed Bar was the freedom this gives to choose the type of work one wants to do. This is why started taking on pro bono cases as soon as I received my practising certificate. In fact, my first hearing on my first day of my second six was a pro bono immigration bail application for BiD (Bail for Immigration Detainees).

In this regard, I am very lucky to be at One Pump Court. Chambers’ ethos aligns with mine and everyone here is supportive of pro bono work. Indeed, several of my larger pro bono projects have come through colleagues in chambers. This means it is easy to take on pro bono work and it seamlessly integrates into my practice.

What has been especially rewarding has been the opportunity to volunteer with and do pro bono work through the Muslim Lawyers Action Group (MLAG). Established by Sultana Tafadar QC, the group aims to be the go-to legal support base for the UK Muslim community and a leading voice in promoting equality and justice across the legal profession.

My involvement with MLAG has enabled me to advise and advocate for vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and families facing discrimination. It meant a lot to me that the Bar Council recognised this work with MLAG in particular.

I cannot encourage barristers strongly enough to take on pro bono work. Even if you cannot afford to invest much time, even an hour here or there – for example, to review or amend particulars of claim – can have a significant positive impact on an unrepresented person. I also think that the privilege of belonging to such an exclusive profession should be used to benefit those unable to pay for our services. Of course, in an ideal society no one should be left without representation but sadly there are gaps and it does fall to our goodwill sometimes to plug those gaps where we can.

Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year

Winner: Sarah Abram (Brick Court) Call 2006; to be appointed QC in 2022

Special mentions: Samina Iqbal (Goldsmith Chambers) and Grainne Mellon (Garden Court Chambers)

I practise mainly in the areas of competition and commercial law, at Brick Court Chambers. I wanted to specialise in an area that would enable me to use my language skills (French and German) so competition and commercial law, with their international emphasis, were an obvious choice.

I’m still amazed by how lucky I’ve been to fall into this profession. I knew from hours spent dissecting knotty issues in the pub with mates that I was likely to enjoy doing oral advocacy – which is much the same, minus the beer. The biggest bonus of the job has been collaborating with incredibly committed colleagues in teams on large cases; everyone brings their own strengths and the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.

Pro bono work has been an important part of my professional life from the start. In fact, my very first case was a pro bono case, acting for a client in the Croydon Employment Tribunal through FRU (Free Representation Unit) when I was doing the Bar Vocational Course. I was representing the claimant in an unfair dismissal claim involving a total absence of proper process. After a two-day trial, we won and he was awarded £6,000. It’s still one of the victories of which I’m most proud in my career.

On the other hand, the best thing about doing pro bono cases is often nothing to do with winning or losing, but feeling that you’ve helped give the client a sense that someone is there to support them and fight their corner. For example, in an immigration case I did a few years ago, the stakes were incredibly high for the client, who was at risk of being returned against their will to their country of origin, with their spouse and young children. We lost the case but, although I was really sorry about the outcome, I still hoped that it had been helpful for the client to have someone to guide them through the court process and explain what was going on.

Pro bono work really enriches my day-to-day practice, because it brings me into contact with a massive range of areas of law and clients from different backgrounds – from individuals challenging social security decisions to charities and NGOs. I believe strongly that practising across a range of fields, contexts and legal fora is good for barristers – and therefore critically also our clients – because it enriches our expertise and makes us more flexible advocates.

Pro bono work has also helped me in my career. For example, I’ll be appointed a QC in 2022; in my application form, I relied on a pro bono case as an example of my work, and drew on a second case for supporting evidence of the diversity competency. Pro bono work has delivered many of the ‘first times’ in my career, including the first substantive appeal I did unled, the first judicial review and the first cross-examination. That kind of experience often helps to demonstrate to private clients that a barrister has the experience to be instructed in their case, or to take on a more senior role in the team.

I was delighted – and surprised – to be awarded Pro Bono Junior of the year. One of the reasons for which I was given the award was my role as a reviewer of applications for assistance to Advocate. It’s important to underline that reviewers can only consider those applications because of the hard work done day-in, day-out by the tireless caseworkers at Advocate; the award was for them as much as for me.

Pro Bono QC of the Year

Winner: Anthony Metzer QC (Goldsmith Chambers) Call 1987

I practised initially in criminal defence and claimant civil actions against the police. Once I was appointed to several part-time judicial positions, firstly in immigration and more recently as a Deputy High Court Judge, and became a silk, I widened my practice into other interesting areas.

As a child, I was attracted to the career due to a TV programme (‘Crown Court’) which made it look quite glamorous and exciting. I always felt drawn towards representing the ‘underdogs’. Once I started pupillage, I became fully focused on the importance and responsibility of representation to the best of my abilities. I have loved being a part of the profession from the outset to date.

I started taking on pro bono early on in my career, when I drafted Petitions before the Privy Council on death row cases. This led to becoming a junior in the landmark case of Pratt and Morgan v AG of Jamaica, which held that it was unconstitutional for prisoners on death row to be awaiting execution for more than five years. Since then, I have retained a strong desire to do pro bono. If I feel I can contribute alone, or as part of a team mainly in Chambers, in respect of a novel point of law and/or where I consider the client should benefit from representation to seek to achieve justice, I am willing to take on a case and fit it around the rest of my work.

I was brought in as leading counsel by a junior in Chambers in what became a hugely significant case: Banger v UK which was litigated in the UK and before the CJEU. Following a successful preliminary ruling from the CJEU, the law was directly amended here in March 2019 and thereafter twice more to account for the findings made there and then in the UK courts, which was widened to include unmarried partners and reintroduced appeal rights for extended family members. The case was characterised as of ‘public importance’ and was Highly Commended in the LexisNexis Case of the Year 2020 awards. Our client and her partner had received dismissive and unfair treatment which they bore with fortitude and courage, and it was wonderful to achieve justice for them and for those who would be in similar positions. It was a highly complex case requiring research across various jurisdictions and a full understanding of EU and UK immigration law.

In short, I would strongly encourage others to take on pro bono work. I consider it an integral part of my duty as a barrister to commit a proportion of my time to doing this work. There are unfortunately many cases involving interference with liberty and other personal rights where there is no access to justice through public funding. Without pro bono representation those people, who are often from disadvantaged backgrounds, would be left at risk of no legal remedy. The areas where legal aid is absent is sadly ever-growing and there is a consequent even greater need for access to justice more widely.

I was very pleased and honoured, to receive this Award for a second time. I believe it reflects well also on my wonderful colleagues in Chambers, many of whom were shortlisted, with whom I have often worked, as it demonstrates our ethos, including a firm and ongoing commitment to the continuing necessity of pro bono work. 

Pro bono and the path to silk: Rebecca Wilkie explains how pro bono can become an intrinsic part of your silk application here

Counsel’s coverage of the 2021 Bar Pro Bono Award Winners continues here.