It is not news to the Bar that acting pro bono for a vulnerable litigant can have a transformative impact. No matter the outcome, having a reasoned and expert advocate present the case provides litigants-in-person (LiPs), at the very least, with significant emotional relief from the tremendous stress of attempting to represent themselves.
This help is becoming increasingly important as poor decision-making by authorities forces more people to turn to courts or tribunals for remedy.
Within immigration tribunals, an obvious lack of advocacy skills by those seeking resolution is exacerbated by the compounded problems facing them. English is often a second or third language. Applicants often live in limbo, with the number of people waiting for an asylum decision for longer than six months – up 50% in the last year. These people are particularly vulnerable to destitution and homelessness, as without status they are unable to work to support themselves.
One such individual applied to the Unit for assistance in June 2016. Historic domestic violence issues had previously led to unsuccessful applications involving her and her two young UK-born children to the First-tier Tribunal for leave to remain under Art 8 EHCR. The second application to remain made by this single mother was, like the first, refused. The applicant filed a notice of appeal and also managed to put together one more application for indefinite leave, using the expensive Home Office same-day service. She was turned down almost immediately.
Suzanne Lambert of 1COR volunteered to help and noted that ‘before seeking the assistance of the Unit, my client was very unsure about the First-tier Tribunal procedural requirements and the evidential burden that would be placed upon her.
‘[She] did not know how to go about gathering and presenting the necessary evidence in order to convince the Tribunal that her appeal should be allowed.’
Lambert made the case for indefinite leave to remain at the appeal hearing, which was granted. Understandably, her client was relieved and extremely grateful at this outcome.
Anthony Lenanton, Temple Garden Chambers, who volunteered to help a Ghanaian national with applications for leave to remain under the 10-year partner route and Art 8 after refusal in 2016, describes the immigration tribunal experience for a LiP as ‘stressful and alien’, saying that immigration and asylum law can be ‘a challenge even for experienced practitioners’.
Representation not only has a significant impact on the people you volunteer to help, but also upon the judiciary. As early as 2014, just a year after LASPO cuts came into effect, the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, reported that managing LiPs ‘significantly added to the time [the case takes]’. Our volunteer barristers frequently mention judges thanking them for providing free legal help to our applicants. Unit volunteer Hassan Sarwar, Cornwall Street, has experienced the changing approaches of tribunal judges dealing with LiPs, noting that some ‘adopt a more brusque approach [which] given the legal complexities in most cases before the FTT may, on occasion, negatively impact an appellant’s position’.
There is a profound difficulty in being required to represent oneself; but being without professional help is not the only difficulty facing LiPs.
At a recent Litigants in Person Support Strategy round table, advice agencies from across the country noted the breadth of impact LASPO cuts and court closures have had on LiPs, with more LiPs attending courts or tribunals without having received any advice, guidance or support at an early stage. The result we have seen is that those offering free legal help untangle more complex cases, under increased time pressure, often where a case has run on much longer than needed.
As part of National Pro Bono Week, the Bar Council, together with a number of pro bono barristers, will explore the issue of poor decision-making by authorities in tribunal cases (7 November). In the meantime, the Unit is working together with other agencies as part of the Litigants in Person Support Strategy to alleviate some of the stresses faced by LiPs and to ensure they get the right help, from the right organisation, at the right time.
There is a role for you too: while you know that everything we do is a drop in the ocean compared to a properly funded legal aid system, you, Lambert, Lenanton and Sarwar really do impact every applicant you help. Why not take on a case? See: www.barprobono.org.uk/case-listing.html.
If you are not yet a panel member and want to join, email our Volunteer and Administration Coordinator Stacey Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org. We always welcome your feedback and you can contact us using the dedicated barrister telephone line or email address: 020 7690 3971 or email@example.com.
National Pro Bono Week is close
It’s back! Immediately after Bar Conference, this year’s National Pro Bono Week will take place from 6-11 November. Save the date for the launch on Monday 6 November at Hogan Lovells and join organisations planning events across the country.
Walk the Thames for Access to Justice
While stalwarts at Doughty Street have signed up, barristers’ chambers are noticeably underrepresented in comparison to the city’s law firms, who are stepping up to Walk the Thames to raise money for access to justice. The London Legal Support Trust walk takes place along the Thames on Saturday 28 October. Walkers can choose to do a full marathon (City Hall to Hampton Court) or join in at Putney for the second half. Sign up now: www.londonlegalsupporttrust.org.uk
Christmas carols at Temple Church
Save the date for Christmas carols with the Bar Pro Bono Unit and LawWorks on Monday 18 December at Temple Church. The church’s annual celebration of carols and readings will be held to benefit both charities as we each celebrate turning 20 years old. Please keep an eye on Twitter (@BarProBonoUnit) and the Unit website for tickets.