Pro Bono in the Community

Join an active network of barristers helping the community at large. Martin Jones explains how you can get involved.

National Pro Bono Week, which took place in November 2008, celebrated the growing scale and impact of pro bono work by barristers, solicitors, legal executives, law students and other professionals. The launch event reflected a central theme of the week—public legal education—with a mock trial at the Royal Courts of Justice.


Public legal education (PLE) isn’t a new concept but received a big boost in 2007 with the publication of the report of the Public Legal Education and Support (Pleas) Task Force. The independent task force, chaired by Professor Hazel Genn and supported by the Ministry of Justice, comprised representatives from the advice and legal sectors (including a Bar Council representative), and from education and government. The task force report (see www.pleas.org.uk) highlighted the important role of PLE in developing public awareness and understanding of the law, and improving people’s ability to deal with law related issues.

Future of PLE

Following the publication of the report, the Ministry of Justice has funded the establishment of a Public Legal Education Network (Plenet). Plenet has set up a website (www.plenet.org.uk) which highlights successful PLE projects in the UK and abroad, and is running events and research to provide the basis for future PLE projects. The project’s aim is to establish an active network of PLE practitioners to build the body of knowledge about what makes PLE successful.

The Bar Pro Bono Unit is represented on the Plenet steering group and is working closely with Plenet staff to see how PLE can be incorporated into its pro bono work—how barristers could use their advocacy skills to help local communities develop their ability to both understand the law and communicate their case effectively.

Plenet conference

The issues will be discussed at the Plenet Legal Empowerment Conference on 23 February. Speakers include Lord Bach, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, and Professor Dame Hazel Genn, Dean of Faculty of Laws, University College London. See: www.plenet.org.uk/conference.    

Martin Jones is project director, Advice Services Alliance, Advicenow Project. See: www.advicenow.org.uk

 

Bars in their eyes

One such PLE initiative, based in Doncaster prison, was called “Bars in their Eyes”. Run by a volunteer prior to starting the Bar Vocational Course, the project delivered presentations to inmates on the requirements of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Participants were engaged by looking at celebrities who have been convicted of criminal offences. The session then considered how the Act applied to them.

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