Pro Bono Watch

Jess Campbell provides an overview of pro bono work countrywide, reviews a successful National Pro Bono Week and issues an appeal for Gift Aid declarations

Since my last column (October 2015), Bar Pro Bono Unit (BPBU) staff have travelled across England and Wales: to the Legal Wales Conference in Cardiff, to the Civil Justice Council and Ministry of Justice meetings in Norwich and Bristol, and given talks in Birmingham, Newcastle and Nottingham, to name but a few.


We also held our primary fundraising event for the year in November; a quiz, this time hosted by Clive Anderson, in partnership with Zaccheaus 2000 (Z2K is a charity addressing poverty issues caused by unfairness in the law and legal and benefits systems). The night was very enjoyable; thank you to all who attended, bringing a competitive spirit and a generosity that helped us raise the much-needed funds for the Unit and Z2K. The evening raised just over £33,000, which was split between the two charities.

Pro bono inspiration

The Unit contributed to another successful National Pro Bono Week in November. In its 14th year, the week brings together pro bono lawyers with facilitators and raises the profile of important issues such as the role of pro bono, insurance for in-house lawyers and the regulation of pro bono work. I highly recommend that you watch the SPARK Talks videos about innovative ways of using your skills pro bono and visit RoleUK to discover more about international pro bono opportunities and how these are contributing to rule of law development programming.

Duty schemes

For those of you who may be looking for a different outlet for your pro bono involvement, I thought I would tell you about the duty schemes currently operating around the country.

London

The first duty scheme with which the Unit became involved was the Chancery Bar Association’s Litigant in Person Support Scheme (CLIPS) (see ‘A helping hand’, Counsel, May 2014, p 15). This runs in Court 10 of the Rolls Building and has been a huge success, due to the support of the judiciary and the time that Chancery barristers have been able to invest. Many barristers have told me of the warm reception they receive from the judges hearing a CLIPS case. Such is the strain on the courts, and on individuals who try to put their case without understanding the nuances of the law, that the Bench is always as welcoming of a CLIPS representative as the litigant themselves. The scheme is open for any member of the Chancery Bar Association, the Commercial Bar Association or the Technology and Construction Bar Association. To volunteer please e-mail Francesca Compton: admin@chba.org.uk.

The Employment Tribunal Litigant in Person Support Scheme (ELIPS), set up by the Employment Lawyers Association, involves two lawyers attending the tribunal for one full day, providing advice and/or representation to the unrepresented. The scheme has been piloted at London Central Employment Tribunal since July 2015; so far the feedback from the scheme has been extremely positive. I am optimistic that the pilot will be approved by the tribunal, and rolled out more permanently, perhaps even nationwide, in due course. The scheme applies to both claimants and respondents and the assistance lawyers can provide will range from advice on procedure, to advocacy at a preliminary hearing or simple trial, assisting someone with a referral to the Free Representation Unit or the BPBU and providing advice on remedy or settlement.

Bristol

The Bristol Pro Bono Advice Scheme launched on 5 November (in National Pro Bono week) and is now running weekly each Thursday, 10am–4pm. There are seven appointment slots, with 15 minutes break in between. It is not a ‘children day’ as far as court lists are concerned, so the people wanting advice are not waiting to go in to court. The scheme does not offer representation in court. Lawyers prepared to volunteer will need to commit to offer two days a year to the scheme. Anyone wanting 30 minutes free legal advice must book a slot through the Personal Support Unit, who then send the booking form to the ‘duty lawyer’ on a Tuesday to conflict-check the names. The booking form contains a summary of the issues. Please contact: sarah.phillimore@stjohnschambers.co.uk if you are willing to volunteer.

There has only been one duty day session at the time of writing, so it is difficult to predict how successful or beneficial the scheme will be. However barrister Judi Evans, who undertook the first day’s volunteer advising, reported that enquiries were varied and that while no substitute for one’s own lawyer, she did feel that she was able to give some assistance, or a ‘road map’ to set litigants off on the right track, in some instances referring to resources like www.familycourtinfo.org.uk or the BPBU.

Cardiff

The Cardiff Court Family Free Advice Clinic launched in October 2015, and operates from the county court. The clinic has been developed in response to evidenced need from the Personal Support Unit and judges, who were seeing an increase in unrepresented individuals involved with family court proceedings. The clinic is a broad collaboration which brings together six law firms, 22 barristers, a pro bono mediation service, two local universities and HM Courts & Tribunals Service, with the support of Law Works Cymru and the Personal Support Unit. The clinic will provide initial legal advice, information and advocacy and will run between 9.30am and 1.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are the family hearing days. For more information, please e-mail: joanna.bogacz@lawworks.org.uk.

Pro Bono Connect network

The BPBU has supported the creation of Pro Bono Connect, launched in September 2015, to establish a network of Chambers and solicitor firms willing to work together on pro bono cases. The scheme enables any barrister from a participating Chambers doing a pro bono case to request assistance from a participating solicitor (and vice versa). For further information, contact: Jamie Goldsmith or Eleanor Campbell at One Essex Court (020 7583 2000).

It is so very valuable for BPBU volunteers to know they are not always alone when dealing with difficult pro bono work. Indeed, since 2010 BPBU has been able to offer a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) to assist volunteer barristers and this CILEx pro bono scheme is vital in a number of instances.

You can see that the BPBU collaborative work means we have a number of ways to reach and support various types of litigants in person. It provides more variety for lawyers with differing schedules to contribute to pro bono. So, if you ever wonder what you can do to help, please know there will be something out there that suits your calendar, way of working, or skills. Please ask us – we will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Gift Aid means more aid

Those of you who kindly donated £30 through the Authorisation to Practice process in April 2015 should by now have received an e-mail from me asking for a Gift Aid declaration. I know this may be a hassle for you, but it will increase your donation from £30 to £37.50, which helps the BPBU to maintain its vital work and expand into other regions. Therefore can I please take this opportunity to encourage you to return the declaration? Once we have your Gift Aid declaration you will not need to give it again and we can apply it to any subsequent donation you make. Please do look out for the BPBU donation page in April 2016. We were very grateful that 57% of you donated to us in 2015 and would like to see that number increase in 2016, so do tell your colleagues in Chambers and the robing rooms about any work you have done for the BPBU and the benefits that this small donation can make.

Jess Campbell, Chief Executive at the Bar Pro Bono Unit

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Jess Campbell

Jess is Chief Executive of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, before which she spent five years at the Bar Council as head of policy for regulatory issues and law reform.