The orders require a losing party to proceedings to pay costs even where the successful party is represented by a pro bono lawyer. The costs are paid to the Access to Justice Foundation (ATJF) and then distributed to regional and local organisations, which provide support networks for further pro bono work and initiatives.

Addressing an Access to Justice Foundation (ATJF) event at the Supreme Court at the end of April, Lord Neuberger said: “A very important development which all should be aware of is that costs can now be awarded to lawyers appearing pro bono.”

Lord Goldsmith, chair of the ATJF, said: “The number of costs orders obtained started modestly and has seen a promising increase during 2010. 

“However, it has by no means reached its full potential. We need to increase awareness of pro bono costs and also increase the number of orders being sought.

“[I]f lawyers don’t know about pro bono costs, they can’t obtain them, and too many lawyers still don’t know about them. My son was an example of this. When he told me last year that he had taken on a pro bono case, I asked if he would be seeking a costs order and he looked blankly at me.”

The orders were introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007 and have existed since October 2008 but have yet to gain traction in the legal profession.

Lord Goldsmith said a recent survey carried out by the ATJF, the Law Society, the Bar Council and ILEX showed 72 per cent of the legal profession did not know they could obtain pro bono costs on winning a civil case, and 86 per cent did not know that such costs could also be included in a settlement.