The winners of Advocate’s Bar Pro Bono Awards, announced on 2 November 2022 at Middle Temple Hall, and at the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference on 26 November 2022 at The Grand Connaught Rooms, London, have all gone above and beyond in their pro bono work.

From assisting Afghan judges escape the Taliban, to representing bereaved families at inquests, to encouraging social mobility within the Bar, to inspiring transformational change within chambers, they have undertaken important pro bono work that have made a difference.

Advocate received the highest number of nominations ever in 2022 – a total of 78 nominations across 10 categories. This is testament to all the incredible pro bono work going on at the Bar. All our winners and nominees are #ProBonoHeroes and we salute you.

Find out how to get involved in pro bono:

Young Pro Bono Barrister of the Year Sponsored by Place Campbell

Annahita Moradi-Balf – One Pump Court

I left the Criminal Bar during my pupillage when the very long work hours, relentless travel, overwhelming stress, constant fight or flight mode and imposter syndrome got too much. I secured a place on BBC World Service’s Future Voices Scheme. Training as a journalist, I investigated a story about immigration detention in the UK. My source’s voice trembled as they explained their deteriorating mental health and trauma when detained. There and then, I wished I had a practising certificate. Turns out my mum’s always right. A few months later, I was back at the Bar and soon accepted my first pro bono case: an immigration bail application.

Two years on, I’ve continued to volunteer with Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), a charity that represents individuals detained under immigration powers in removal centres and prisons, at their immigration bail hearings. We act for some of the most vulnerable in society – people with acute mental health needs, English language barriers, and backgrounds of being tortured, abused, trafficked or enslaved – locked up without a specific release date or time limit. Whether it’s the continued separation of a parent and their young child, or the deterioration of a person’s mental health condition, or the ongoing inability to meaningfully engage with lawyers or participate in their legal proceedings – every case has very high stakes. If it wasn’t for BID and the willingness and ability of barristers to volunteer a few hours of their time, such individuals with complicated cases and no legal aid would have to fend for themselves against the comparatively well-resourced Home Office.

My pro bono casework also involves issues of international human rights law. As a led junior, I have represented and been a member of legal teams representing NGOs and individuals abroad before regional and international human rights mechanisms. My cases have involved issues of arbitrary detention, state hostage-taking, torture and ill-treatment, and the rights to land, natural resources and healthcare. They’ve required research into the laws and procedures of different mechanisms, and the international relations and geopolitics of the states involved; drafting complaints and communications in line with strict rules of admissibility; and sometimes working with legal professionals and human rights organisations abroad at odd times because of different time zones. All tasks which individuals detained in notorious prisons in conditions that meet the definition of torture or human rights abuse, and victims scared of publicly dissenting against their government, could not do so effectively and robustly without pro bono legal representation.

No one should have to rely on the goodwill of a pro bono barrister to secure legal representation. But many do. Today’s economy coupled with issues of chaotic court listings, backlogs and public funding in some practice areas, means it’s even harder to take on pro bono cases. But even a few hours of advice or representation could be the make or break of an otherwise unrepresented person’s case. So, if interested, choosing to do one pro bono case every few months or a year could be a sustainable starting point. There’s so much to gain for barristers too – whether you want to diversify your practice, meet more solicitors, be led by or lead another barrister, work with different organisations, or give back to the community.

I’m grateful for this award which represents the hard work and resilience of the teams I’ve had the privilege to work with including BID and Advocate, my leaders also acting pro bono, Chambers who’ve supported my volunteering commitments without reservation, and the people I’ve represented who’ve put their faith in me in their darkest moments.

Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year Sponsored by Westgate Wealth Management

Catherine Meredith, Doughty Street Chambers

What difference does pro bono legal work make and why? A tough question to answer without stating the obvious, but here goes.

Pro bono legal work means that those unable to obtain legal aid or pay privately can access a lawyer, the courts, and justice. While no substitute for access to legal aid lawyers, the pro bono work done by so many, enabling access to lawyers and the courts, can bring positive change to lives and to the law.

Pro bono work can mean the difference between justice being served or denied. The difference between safety, the protection of a child, a united family, a roof to sleep under, or not. The difference between abuses of power going unchecked, and the vindication of rights by the courts. It can also mean issues of wider public importance, being brought before the courts, by way of strategic litigation, or third-party interventions. It can be a means to improve the protection or equal treatment of particularly vulnerable or marginalised groups.

There are multiple opportunities for lawyers and practitioners to work pro bono, and often collaboratively so. There are lawyers and organisations providing free legal advice or creating routes or referrals for the same. There are change makers and collaborators with big ideas. There are young lawyers creating pro bono opportunities and initiatives for aspiring lawyers. There are seasoned hands passing on (some, or all, of) their court craft or even trying something new. There are all these opportunities and more for anyone interested.

A couple of examples of pro bono work, collaboration, and opportunities are these.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, legal advice projects were created to assist with the relocation of vulnerable Afghans to the UK. All those triaging, referring, and taking on hundreds of urgent cases, in challenging conditions, make such a difference.

When changes were announced to the identification and protection of victims of trafficking, under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the anti-trafficking sector worked tirelessly to protect those rights. The multiple litigation, parliamentary, research, and communications streams deployed, needed a high level of, and sharing of expertise, in fast moving circumstances.

I have been lucky to work with committed practitioners and organisations on these projects. The need for pro bono legal work and the challenges continue.

So, as can be seen, pro bono legal work involves a force. That force is people power creating access to justice to protect the most vulnerable, and that is important.

Pro Bono KC of the Year Sponsored by Hewetson & Co

Mark Harries KC, Serjeants’ Inn Chambers

I can hardly believe it, but this is my 27th year in practice. I found the lure of treading in the footsteps of Edward Marshall Hall KC irresistible so my early work focused on defending crime and, in time, fraud. It was pro bono work that was the genesis of my professional discipline practice – a long time ago, Lincoln’s Inn asked me to act against a student barrister who hadn’t declared his convictions at call; later came instructions from regulatory bodies and the professionals they accused. I took silk in 2019 and the following year moved to Serjeants’ Inn Chambers where non-criminal work accounts for 80% of my practice.

I’m a member of the Advisory Panel at Inside Justice, a fantastic charity that investigates miscarriages of justice. I wanted to be part of an organisation that kept fighting for wrongly convicted defendants after everyone else had given up on them. Signing up with Advocate was a natural next step to contribute to the work necessary to help people facing a wider variety of legal difficulties.

It’s extraordinary that the regulatory process permits professionals to be unrepresented in career-defining moments. Sometimes insurers refuse to meet the expected costs of a case leaving the paramedic or nurse to fend for themselves, modest incomes understandably not stretching to private fees. Having seen so many cases won on good cross-examination or legal argument, I shudder to think how many professionals, particularly those with mental health fragility, have been struck off when a lawyer might have helped avoid that sanction. The well-publicised case of a newly qualified solicitor struck off for covering up the loss of case papers on a train is proof of that – I was delighted to be part of the pro bono team that successfully overturned the findings and sanction against her that would have ended her career.

Because of the nature of the work we do across many practice areas, Serjeants’ Inn is acutely aware of the importance of the giving freely of our time, especially in the most sensitive cases. Chambers proactively encourages members to take on pro bono work and our clerks are hugely accommodating in finding diary slots within busy practices. It was a particular privilege to receive my award on the same evening my colleague Tom O’Connor was named Pro Bono Chambers’ Professional of the Year.

The most rewarding part of pro bono work is seeing the impact it has on the people I represent, not just in the result we achieve but throughout the whole process. The isolation individuals feel without representation is lightened considerably just by knowing someone is prepared to fight for them at a crisis point in their lives.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend pro bono work to junior and senior barristers alike. The variety of work available is fantastic and there’s no doubt the interesting challenges enhance your legal, advocacy and judgement skills. Most recently, I’ve appeared before the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and two 3-star Generals at Army HQ, while advising on a civil claim for sexual assault against a movie mogul and a political party’s internal investigation process – quite a variety and never a dull day!

To anyone daunted, Advocate has a great mentoring process in which experienced practitioners can be a helpful guide to more junior counsel taking on something that might be on the edge of their comfort zone.

I was humbled to receive my award but the Bar more widely deserves the plaudits for the extraordinary contribution of so many individuals, chambers and professionals. It’s a privilege just to be part of it.