2020 was a year like no other, both for the world in general but also for Advocate as an organisation. We went entirely digital (from completely paper-based) and launched an online application form, negating the need for a referral. The result was a whole new level of vulnerable applicants who needed more hand-holding and reassurance than we had ever provided before.

Despite the Bar suffering hugely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we signed up 470 new panel members last year, an 86% increase on the year before and placed a record-breaking 1,412 pieces of work. The commitment from barristers to pro bono was nothing short of remarkable, and this was reflected in our Awards, with a staggering 51 nominations across seven categories.

The judging panel, which included the then Chair of the Bar Amanda Pinto QC, Director of the Law Centres Network Julie Bishop and Lord Goldsmith, Advocate’s founder, were immensely impressed with the calibre of nominees. This held particularly true in the Young and Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year categories, which saw an incredible 31 nominations between them. We are delighted that you can read here a little about the winners and their wonderfully varied work, all carried out pro bono but not necessarily through Advocate. All the stories are different, so please do also take time to read about the nominees in our online brochure.

Gladly leaving 2020 behind, we’ve made a great start to 2021 despite an increase in applications. We are celebrating our 25th anniversary with a number of new initiatives which we will be sharing more about in the coming months. In the meantime, there is still so much work to be done. But we are honoured to have so many barristers willing to help by our side and we look forward to celebrating you all throughout the year and at the 2021 Bar Pro Bono Awards. 

Catherine Jaquiss
Jennifer MacLoed
Emma Mockford

Young Pro Bono Barristers of the Year Winners: Catherine Jaquiss (Goldsmith Chambers, Jennifer MacLeod (Brick Court Chambers) and Emma Mockford (Brick Court Chambers) Highly Commended: Dr Sam Fowles (Cornerstone Barristers)

Catherine Jaquiss writes:

I had dreams of becoming a ‘human rights lawyer’ as a school student, but I don’t pretend I knew what that meant at the time. I did know that I was determined to create positive change for people adversely affected by the actions and failings of those in power. My commitment to human rights led to me coming to the Bar, and it was in immigration and refugee law where I found that commitment was, for me, most effectively realised. It was in this area that I found the clearest expression of how human rights law can have a real and positive impact on people’s lives. It is also an area where any imbalance between executive power and the rights of individuals is keenly felt.

I have been taking on pro bono work since I began practising. This was a natural extension of the reasons for which I became a lawyer: all my pro bono work reflects my commitment to make human rights law work in reality for the people it was drafted to protect. This includes regular volunteering, such as for the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, the Trans Equality Legal Initiative and Bail for Immigration Detainees, as well as discrete projects and individual cases.

As my expertise and skills have developed, my work has expanded beyond pure immigration and refugee law to include international human rights law. All my pro bono work is rewarding in and of itself, but there have been a couple of projects which have had or have the potential to have a significant impact.

For example, along with a team from Goldsmith Chambers, I recently completed a written advice to an international solicitors’ firm on international human rights law as it applies to victims’ rights to reparations and the seizure of assets. My contribution included months of research and drafting on complex issues including the identification of a legal obligation on the part of UN member states to finance reparations for victims of sexual violence in conflict. Solicitors are now acting on the advice with other partners with our continued involvement. The advice ultimately has the potential to have a global impact, and to benefit victims of sexual violence in a concrete and tangible way.

Last year I drafted amicus curiae submissions to the Romanian Constitutional Court with a team of others on a proposed law prohibiting any education or training aimed at spreading ‘gender identity theory or opinion’. The Constitutional Court ultimately decided that the proposed law should be quashed. We were told by the organisations instructing us that our submissions materially affected the outcome. If left unchallenged, the proposed law would have violated international law and had grave and widespread consequences for the rights of trans people in Romania. The success of this work has recently led to some high-level pro bono opportunities in the UK courts.

I am pleased and proud to have won the Advocate Young Pro Bono Barrister of the Year award. It has been a privilege to work on some prestigious and impactful projects with many excellent colleagues. It is also important to recognise that my colleagues at the immigration Bar frequently act pro bono – where work is not covered by legal aid (or a fixed fee becomes negligible), or where privately paying clients run out of resources.

Pro bono work continues to be a necessity in order for justice to be served for many. The people whose rights are most often infringed, most often don’t possess the resources to pay for legal representation. 

Jennifer MacLeod writes:

I did law at university and always intended to come to the Bar, without having any idea really about what it entailed until I started! After a few years of working for NGOs, I was lucky enough to secure pupillage at Brick Court, where I’ve been happily placed ever since. I have a mixed practice and while there are plenty of challenges, I feel truly fortunate to be a part of Chambers and the profession more broadly.

I always hoped for independence, intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to work on a range of issues (including on matters I am passionate about), and I’ve been really privileged to achieve that at the Bar. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by how collaborative my practice often feels. I work with the most phenomenal solicitors and counsel, and that has been a great source of enjoyment, even through the challenges of a pandemic.

My very first case, I think, was pro bono, and I’ve always seen it as fundamental to my practice and role as a barrister. Every case, pro bono or otherwise, brings insights and new ways of looking at things from individual clients. Pro bono work in particular reminds me of how inaccessible the law can be, and the need to approach individual cases with care and compassion. I try and carry that through to the rest of my practice. Managing work-life balance is obviously one of the biggest challenges for any barrister, but I just try and ensure that (consistently with my other instructions and the cab rank rule, of course) I make room for this type of work.

Assisting a client with finding their own voice and agency, even if they are ultimately unsuccessful, is always hugely rewarding. It is a great privilege. The case I was nominated for this year is a wonderful example of that – I worked with the Richford family on the tragic inquest of baby Harry Richford. I will never, ever, ever, forget that family or that case, or the team who worked so passionately on it.

Sadly, pro bono work is becoming more important in wider society today. The limitations on legal aid mean that often the only option is for cases to be brought pro bono, if indeed they are brought at all. This award validates the exceptional teamwork of all involved in the inquest; Emma Mockford (a joint award winner), the fabulous team at Arnold & Porter, and the incredible family themselves. It was an honour and a privilege to work on this case, and it is very moving to have received an award recognising that. To anyone thinking of taking on some pro bono work, my advice would be: ‘Just do it!’

Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year Winner: Zimran Samuel (Doughty Street Chambers) Highly Commended: Amritpal Bachu (1 MCB); Bojana Asanovic (Lamb Building, now Garden Court Chambers); Sarah Pinder (Goldsmith Chambers); Sarah Salmon (Field Court Chambers)

I grew up in York and studied Law and Anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) before completing a LLM in human rights law at University College London. Early on I was interested in public international law, civil liberties and anthropology. After working at Office of Legal Affairs at the UN Headquarters in New York, I decided to pursue a career at the Bar.

I have since formed a mixed practice of international children law, Court of Protection cases and human rights law, which I am lucky to be able to combine with my work on the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) and teaching as a Fellow at the Anthropology department of the LSE.

I have undertaken pro bono work at various points for different reasons. It was a great way to gain experience in areas that I wanted to develop early on in my career. I first took on a pro bono case shortly after pupillage. I also started getting involved with international pro bono work through the BHRC, such as amicus curiae briefs.

Pro bono work presents an early opportunity to help people in desperate need of representation in significant cases. Going to court and presenting a case can be one of the hardest and most daunting tasks for a litigant in person to undertake. Offering to work pro bono can provide hope for very vulnerable people. It is a direct way to give back to the profession and the wider system of justice that we work within. The most rewarding aspect is getting letters and messages from clients who take the time to write about the difference having representation made for them.

The most memorable case I have worked on pro bono was the matter of W (A child) [2016] EWCA Civ 1140; a significant case on ECtHR Article 6 and 8 rights of witnesses. The case was memorable for a number of reasons, including the volume of reading (totalling around 12 boxes of paperwork). My appeal arguments on points of human rights law were unanimously allowed by the Court of Appeal and the case formed an important precedent. It was a wonderful to see that the court was aided by the assistance and that it made a real difference to the outcome of the case which the judges were generous enough to record in the judgment.

I would say that if you are thinking about doing some pro bono work, then the best next step is to dip your toe in. No one should feel pressurised – particularly in the current economic climate. It is a difficult time and it is not the role of barristers to mitigate for all the failures of government and the legal policy. A barrister unsure of whether to work pro bono work should start with just one case. It may be a hearing, a written advice or a short telephone conference.

Doughty Street Chambers has a long and rich tradition of important pro bono work and I am fortunate to be a small part of that. Whether it is just a single case in a year or part of a wider scheme, pro bono work is one of the best ways of using our advocacy skills to help people who are in desperate need of representation and can change someone’s life dramatically.

Pro Bono QC of the Year Winner: Ben Collins QC (Old Square Chambers) Highly Commended: Anthony Metzer QC (Goldsmith Chambers)

My first court appearance was pro bono – acting for a claimant in the employment tribunal through the Free Representation Unit (FRU). I lost. Fortunately, my record has improved since then, at least a little…

When I was first starting out, doing pro bono work was the best way to get experience, and the confidence to know I could do the job. I’ve kept on doing it ever since because, well, why wouldn’t you? When you have skills and experience, it seems odd not to use them to help people who can benefit from them. And you meet all sorts of interesting people on the way. I’ve been really lucky in recent years that people have asked me to help out with important cases – representing people excluded from the furlough scheme, overseas workers anxious about Brexit, families seeking an inquiry into hospital treatment, and minicab drivers affected by losing their exemption from the congestion charge. I would hate to think, ‘I could have helped, but I didn’t.’ Even when you lose a pro bono case, there is the consolation that you’ve given a voice to people whose voices might not otherwise have been heard.

My work includes employment law, public law, clinical negligence, personal injury and professional discipline. I never had a plan to specialise when I started out at the Bar – I just wanted to do ‘people law’. And I’ve stuck with that. My work never gets boring! The fields in which I work are academically stimulating (there is a lot of law in, for example, discrimination and human rights challenges) while still being about real life.

I’d encourage any barrister to do pro bono work, but especially those at the junior end of the profession. You get a chance to take on cases which you might never otherwise be exposed to – maybe a new area of practice, or a bigger case than you might usually get in your own field. And while you do so, you’re ensuring that your pro bono clients have access to justice. Being a litigant in person is almost inevitably a horribly difficult experience, so representing someone who would otherwise be on their own is a really important thing to do.

I’m proud to work as part of an organisation – Old Square Chambers – which is committed to pro bono work. My colleagues Ijeoma Omambala QC and Cyril Adjei recently had a fantastic result in a pro bono case challenging the government’s failure to extend health and safety protections to workers during the pandemic. That’s a case which could have lasting effects on many lives. But equally, junior members (supported by an enthusiastic clerking team) are taking on smaller cases for individuals every week. And although they may be smaller, each case will have the potential to make a real difference to someone’s life.

You don’t always find out the longer-term consequences of those cases, but occasionally you do. One bright moment for me in an otherwise pretty grim 2020 was hearing from a pro bono client for whom I’d been able to secure a residence permit in an immigration appeal, who sent me photos of their wedding.

I wish we didn’t need pro bono lawyers. I would much prefer to see public funding being made available for all those who need it. Until that happens, however, organisations like Advocate and FRU need all our support. They need money, but most of all they need our time. So get out there and take on a pro bono case today! 

International Pro Bono Barrister of the Year Winner: Sangeetha Iengar (Goldsmith Chambers) 

As a child of parents born in pre-partition India, and the first in my family to attend university, I have always been acutely aware of injustice and inequality. From a young age I saw the law as a powerful crucible for securing equal access to rights. This is what drew me to the Bar and fuelled my desire to build a career in public law and human rights.

I first cut my teeth in practice on immigration, asylum and nationality matters and in doing so, gained invaluable experience of working with vulnerable clients – be that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, victims of trafficking, victims of torture, or those suffering from complex mental health problems. This grew organically to an interest in other areas of public law and into international human rights law. I have since carved my niche at the Bar by concentrating my practice on helping vulnerable groups access justice.

Due to practical, administrative and financial barriers to accessing representation, unfortunately much of the work in this practice area is undertaken on a pro bono basis. I have seen the communities I serve becoming increasingly squeezed from both ends. Deep cuts to legal aid have left a large chasm of vulnerable people entirely unable to access representation. This, coupled with the onset of a legislative labyrinth creating a ‘hostile environment’, have made access to good representation all the more necessary and urgent. Be it good or bad, this has dramatically increased the demand for high quality pro bono representation.

I work with several different organisations and partners on a pro bono basis. I am continually impressed by the tireless dedication of organisations like Advocate that bridge this gap by offering pro bono representation, some of whom I have offered my time and support to. Without these organisations, the support of my instructing solicitors and Chambers, I would not be able to undertake this crucial work.

The only magic behind how I select the pro bono work I do, is the scope for positive impact. Depending on my availability, this can range from half a day’s work on an individual’s application for refugee family reunion, to several hundreds of hours of work on an Opinion advising instructing solicitors of an innovative approach to financing restorative justice for a global fund for victims of sexual violence, or to dedicating a clear few weeks at a time to being in Greece to provide legal advice to asylum seekers. No one project or case is more or less satisfying than the next where fundamental breaches of human rights are being repaired and restored.

In our volatile global climate now, it seems more critical than ever to give voice to those silenced by injustice and inequality. I see pro bono work as the legal profession’s simple, unrelenting commitment to access to justice for all. While this work should be properly and fully funded, it is a testament to the Bar that pro bono enjoys such a central position in the profession.

I am honoured to accept this award in recognition and celebration of the tireless dedication, energy and passion all of the nominees have committed to international pro bono work. Thank you to Advocate, the panel, my fellow nominees and colleagues, for recognising the value of this work with this wonderful award. 

Pro Bono Chambers Professional of the Year Winner: Nick Levett (Outer Temple Chambers)

I have worked at Outer Temple Chambers for 14 years and have been involved in pro bono for many of those. I started encouraging barristers to take on pro bono from the moment I took up a position as a practice manager in 2012. Beyond the obvious social benefits associated with taking such cases, I recommend it by giving them examples of the range of experience gained by others in chambers.

It can be difficult for barristers to find the balance, time-wise, to do pro bono work and I strongly believe that it should be treated with the same level of attention and respect as a paid piece of work. I block out time in barristers’ diaries to do it so they can be sure there won’t be a clash with anything that they feel should take precedence. I also believe it’s really important to encourage the senior members of chambers to stay involved, as well as encouraging the new tenants and pupils.

There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing pro bono. Alongside helping place cases for Advocate, we are on the roster of chambers for the Employment Law Appeal Advice Scheme, the Employment Tribunal/Chancery Litigant in Person Support Scheme and the Free Representation Unit. Members of Outer Temple are also actively involved as regular volunteers for charities such as Coram Children’s Legal Centre and Bail for Immigration Detainees and others create podcasts delivering free legal advice. So there will always be something for someone who wants to expand their experience or area of expertise.

One of the most rewarding things about coordinating pro bono is seeing the positive effect it has on barristers’ careers. If someone expresses an interest in doing a particular area of work, in which they have no practical experience, pro bono offers them that. Not only does it allow them to gain skills in client/witness handling (and this is real client handling, typically without the support of a solicitor), but it also enables them to explore different areas of law they may otherwise struggle to access.

Beyond this, it is a fantastic opportunity for barristers to gain experience of appellate work and references from higher court judges. We have many a success story of our members using pro bono cases, along with references from the judge/opponent on those cases, in submissions for legal directories and applications for appointments on panels such as the Attorney General’s list, the EHRC list and even QC applications.

Personally speaking, it gives me a real sense of satisfaction to see our team doing good in the community, and for us to be able to give really valuable support on important issues in people’s lives. It is always very humbling to see the warm feedback we so often get from grateful pro bono clients.

To anyone sceptical of taking on pro bono work, I say they are definitely missing a trick. There is every reason, both as a practice manager and a barrister, to get involved with pro bono work – it’s an investment in so many senses.

It is always enormously rewarding to know we have helped people gain access to justice with high quality representation they cannot afford. At the end of the day, that alone makes it more than worthwhile. I am thrilled to have received this award, and am ever thankful to Outer Temple Chambers for their support of my time spent on pro bono efforts. Special thanks as well go to the amazing team at Advocate for making it so much easier for us all. 

Pro Bono Chambers of the Year Winner: Goldsmith Chambers

Anthony Metzer QC, Head of Goldsmith Chambers writes:

I am proud to say that Chambers has always had a longstanding commitment to taking on pro bono work and seeks to promote access to justice for the most vulnerable people and communities across each of our practice areas which I consider to be deeply rewarding. Our members are acutely aware of the financial barriers that clients can face when seeking judicial redress, particularly since the cuts in public funding.

Over time, I have seen the inception of several partnerships and the development of projects involving a huge amount of pro bono. It is hard to convey how fulfilling it is to head a workplace where these seeds can be sown and endeavours flourish – enabling, for example, a successful appeal where otherwise there would have been no court hearing.

I strongly recommend pro bono work to members of our Chambers and I am pleased to say that most do not need persuading that there is such a pressing need and that the cases are worth taking on! The experience and growth we gain in our pro bono cases is unmatched. From a pragmatic point of view, not only is it an opportunity for more junior members to develop their practice and establish new contacts but pro bono cases remind us of the importance of giving of our time and legal knowledge to the under-privileged and under-resourced.

Receiving the award of Pro Bono Chambers of the Year 2020 was a huge honour and a testament to the committed, hard work of so many of my colleagues. I was also so happy to see our members’ pro bono work and contributions feature so prominently in the awards following on from success the previous year. Across Chambers, we had six members put forward as nominees and two of our members were recognised as ‘winners’: Sangeetha Iengar as Pro Bono International Barrister of the Year and Catherine Jaquiss as Young Pro Bono Barrister of the Year. Two other members (including me), were ‘highly commended’, namely in the Pro Bono QC of the Year category and Sarah Pinder in the Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year category. Samina Iqbal was nominated for helping to shape the next generation of lawyers and Lawrence Youssefian for his devotion to helping others in any way he can.

The breadth of the work undertaken and the variety of the partnerships which have been formed under my tenure is truly inspiring. Over the last year alone, the work has ranged from pro bono advice clinics, training lawyers abroad and overseas, reviewing and accepting referrals from Advocate and Bail for Immigration Detainees, helping refugees in Lesvos, Greece and those arriving in Kent, to raising awareness of immigration law issues for non-lawyer organisations on the ground.

I was particularly gratified to be part of a Chambers’ multi-disciplinary team of ten advising pro bono on the confiscation of assets for the purposes of restorative justice for female Yazidi victims of crimes against humanity. The collaboration across several practice teams was successfully integrated. The combined work time researching and drafting the Opinion extended to many hundreds of hours. These reflect some, but by no means all that Chambers has been involved in without fee and I hope that will remain the position for years to come. I would like to extend our huge thanks to Advocate for all their wonderful and invaluable work, and for this prestigious award. 

Lifetime Achievement in Pro Bono, the Sydney Elland Goldsmith Award Winner: John Collins 1931-2020 (Park Square Barristers)

Called to the Bar in 1956 and still practising up until the day before he died in April 2020, John Collins will be fondly remembered as an inspiration, a champion of access to justice, and a legal legend who spent his 74-year long career helping others.

John was born in Leeds and read Classics at Queen’s College, Oxford. A school trip to the courts in Leeds inspired him to become a lawyer and he joined Zenith Chambers after his call to the Bar, eventually becoming its head in 1966, a post that he held for 36 years. When Zenith Chambers eventually closed some years later, with no thought of retiring and at the tender age of 88, he joined Park Square Barristers, headed by Richard Wright QC, Leader of the North-Eastern Circuit. Richard nominated John for his lifetime achievement award, saying: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that we will not see his like againand calling him ‘a truly great man whose life was a blessing’.

John was a man who would not turn away anyone in need of legal help and this is not his first Bar Pro Bono Award. He won in 2016 for his work on Ilott v Mitson, a case to which he dedicated seven years of his life. He was first instructed on it in 2010 for Mrs Ilott and had conduct of the case right up to the Supreme Court hearing ([2017] UKSC 17) for which he was junior counsel. The case established significant guidance for the interpretation of ss 1-3 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg and there is an incredibly long list of cases that John worked on in a pro bono capacity, both for Advocate and beyond. He represented anyone who needed it, often giving up huge amounts of his time. He was also committed to many other projects in his beloved Jewish community, like sorting out title on different plots of land that belonged to his Synagogue and helping with wording to open up a Jewish school to all faiths and making sure it complied with national standards.

He was always careful to bring junior barristers into some of his trickier pro bono cases, giving them an opportunity to experience interesting work that was beyond what they would usually see. John was a role model to younger barristers, championing access to justice and directly influencing many of them to take on pro bono work. There are a number of barristers on the North Eastern Circuit who undertake pro bono work because of him. One member of Park Square Barristers said that he began volunteering with Advocate because of John’s influence.

He offered assistance to anyone – both clients and colleagues alike. One supporter and close friend of John’s, Simon Myerson QC said: ‘During Illot, I asked John why he had spent far more time than Advocate would ever require. He said the point of a justice system was to remedy injustice. John doesn’t seem to have ever turned away a case because someone could not afford to pay. I wonder how many lay clients would have been unrepresented but for him.’

He served continuously for 30 years on the Legal Aid Committee, helping people who needed financial aid in order to go to court and also received a Yorkshire Lawyer Pro Bono Award in 2017.

The last word must, of course, go to his wife, Sheila, who simply says of him: ‘John was a giant of a man with a small ego. He was a true gentleman whose lovely smile and wise counsel will be sadly missed by all who knew him.’ 

The Bar Pro Bono Awards went digital in 2020, with a remotely filmed ceremony. The prestigious awards were presented by Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice and Amanda Pinto QC, then Chair of the Bar, and the ceremony was hosted by Advocate Chair, Sir Robin Knowles CBE. If you missed the ceremony you can view it here.
To find out more about how to volunteer with Advocate, see: weareadvocate.org.uk/volunteer.html