Sharing legal knowledge

As the International Law Book Facility celebrates its 10th anniversary, Paul Lowenstein QC and Katrina Crossley explain the origins of the charity, the work it does and how members of the Bar can help

The International Law Book Facility (ILBF) is a small charity with a big impact. 

Its mission is to support the rule of law and access to justice through sharing legal knowledge. In ten years the ILBF has shipped 25,000 used legal books to 100 organisations in 42 countries: across Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. From large jurisdictions like Pakistan and Nigeria to some of the smallest, like St Helena and Ascension Island and the Federated States of Micronesia. Organisations who have received books include Ministries of Justice and judicial libraries, Law Reform Commissions, universities and law schools, prison libraries, police colleges, Bar associations, and pro bono groups and legal advice clinics.

We use our expertise to identify the legal texts that will be most relevant and only send the books that are requested by the organisations who apply, which they do via the website. The books are donated from across the legal profession, from chambers, law firms, judicial libraries, local authorities, publishers, students and individual practitioners and judges.

The books requested by the organisations cover areas of law as wide ranging as contract to environmental to family to human rights, including procedure and evidence. Sets of law reports and works such as Halsbury’s Laws and Halsbury’s Statutes are also very much valued. A recent shipment to the African Prisons Project in Uganda and Kenya included many standard student texts to support the 20 students among prisoners and prison officers who are about to start a law diploma with the University of London.

The origins of the ILBF

But where did it all start? The idea for the ILBF arose from a very real, practical problem. The Right Honourable the Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Lord Chief Justice, when he was a High Court judge, met judges from Uganda who were visiting London back in 2002/2003. The Ugandan judges noted the limited access they had to legal text books and law reports which was a major impediment to efficient justice in the courts. For example the company law text they were using at the time dated from 1959. The problem highlighted that the rule of law has to be supported by access to relevant legal materials to inform justice, share legal knowledge and provide certainty and consistency. This led Lord Thomas to ask what happens to legal textbooks in the UK when the new edition comes along? He asked Nicholas Munday (then a partner at Clifford Chance) to investigate: Nicholas discovered that while some law books from chambers, law firms and legal publishers (but by no means all) were being donated through private schemes or to Book Aid, the scale of operations was modest and Book Aid did not have the resources or expertise to specialise in law textbooks, or contacts with the organisations who needed the books. So was born the idea of creating a specialist law book facility. Lord Thomas, along with teams at 3 Verulam Buildings, Clifford Chance, the International Bar Association, the Law Society and LexisNexis launched the charity in 2005 which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.

With the original idea for the charity coming from Lord Thomas, others at the Bar, including us, were quick to join the small band of like-minded individuals who wanted to get the idea off the ground. Paul responded to a request from Lord Thomas to the then head of chambers at 3 Verulam Buildings and so joined forces with Mr Justice Blair, who was then still in practice at the Bar. Paul’s motivation for volunteering was to support a cause which both promoted the rule of law and at the same time provided a practical way to recycle perfectly useful law books and get them to where they could make a difference, rather than being pulped or thrown away. Katrina, a barrister working as a publisher for LexisNexis legal publishers, and who had supported the programme at Book Aid, contributed expertise on legal content and forged links with other legal publishers.

The International Bar Association provided expertise from the start, both suggesting potential organisations to send books to from its network of Bar Associations and processing applications.

In addition, the ILBF has forged strategic partnerships with aligned organisations such A4ID in the UK and The Asia Foundation in San Francisco.

10th anniversary

We were delighted to celebrate the ILBF’s 10th anniversary recently at a reception at the Royal Courts of Justice hosted by Lord Thomas. In his speech, Lord Thomas said that the reception was both a celebration of the success of the charity and an opportunity to thank the organisations who have provided such tremendous support over the years, both financially and in terms of donated books. The Bar has been absolutely key to that support, with financial and book donations from several sets of chambers across the UK and from individual barristers.

At the reception, Lord Thomas made the point that English law continues to be highly relevant across the globe, not just to those countries with a common law system but also to those countries outside the Commonwealth who look to English law for guidance and precedent. The demand for books is as great as ever, with shipments currently being prepared for Antigua, Sri Lanka, Lesotho and Ukraine. The reception was also the chance for guests to learn more of the impact of the books on the organisations who receive them: Lord Thomas launched a film we have made about the ILBF which includes feedback from organisations in Uganda, Malawi and Nepal on the impact of the books. From assistance with the revising and drafting of laws, to improving the pass rate of law students, to providing research and reference materials for state advocates, the books are making a big difference. The film can be viewed here.

Lord Thomas also stressed that without the support of the profession, the ILBF could not function – it is run entirely by volunteers who are patrons, trustees and members of the operating committee. Lord Thomas urged the profession to continue to provide that support. To that end, we are very keen to drive continued engagement with the Bar.

Bar involvement

The ILBF is run by nine trustees including several High Court Judges and barristers and an ever-evolving operating committee comprised of a team of volunteers drawn from an expanding number of organisations, chambers and law firms. As barristers, we serve both as trustees and on the operating committee. Other barristers have worked with the ILBF over the years, including Nicholas Craig (who devised our shipping protocol), Katy Balmer (who started as a student assistant) and the most recent recruit to the operating committee, Hannah Brown, who brings experience of having seen for herself how much ILBF’s services are needed in countries such as Zambia, where they do not have the resources that we in the UK take for granted. The volunteers from the Bar bring a range of skills and contacts to the ILBF as well as a passion for the rule of law.

Since 2007, the ILBF has taken on two students each September as interns for 12 months to organise the packing days and shipments. Most of the students are studying to qualify as barristers and work closely with the operating committee to assess applications for books and organise shipments with the international shipping partner. For the students, as well as being an excellent pro bono opportunity, it is the chance to hone skills which will stand them in good stead at the Bar: they have to get up to speed quickly, they need to be very organised, and communicate effectively with colleagues at all levels of the profession from the most junior to the most senior. Over the years, the ILBF has taken on 18 students as interns and of those several are pursuing successful careers at the Bar.

Looking ahead

The plan for the next ten years and beyond is to continue to reach more organisations across the globe in need of legal texts. There are many parts of the world to which the ILBF has not yet shipped, so the patrons, trustees and operating committee are actively involved in outreach. The ILBF wants to engage more closely with the organisations to which it ships books to understand from them what their greatest challenges are, how their information needs are developing and how best the ILBF can support them. The ILBF is also keen to forge partnerships with other organisations involved in supporting the rule of law. And there is the not so small matter of continuing to attract the funding necessary for its work.

The ILBF is lucky to have supporters at the Bar who have worked with judiciaries around the world and so helped to build links between the ILBF and Supreme Courts and Courts of Appeal where lack of legal resources continues to impede justice. But as well as seasoned practitioners, the ILBF is very keen to involve younger members of the Bar. This is important for the long term future of the ILBF.

Volunteering with the ILBF includes: actively working with a dedicated group of volunteers to provide assistance with book collections; raising awareness of the work of the ILBF through social media; helping with administration and good governance; assisting with packing days when books requested by the organisations are identified, stamped and packed; preparing the packed books for shipment; and following-up with our recipients.

For us, volunteering with the ILBF continues to be immensely rewarding and we feel privileged to work alongside such a dedicated and dynamic group of people from across the profession.

How to get involved

If you’d like to get involved with the work of the ILBF, the following assistance is needed:

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Contributors Paul Lowenstein QC, 3 Verulam Buildings and Katrina Crossley, ILBF Trustee

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Paul Lowenstein QC

Paul practises from 3 Verulam Buildings, where he specialises in commercial, financial and multinational litigation. He is also a trustee and chairman of the Operating Committee of the International Law Book Facility.

Katrina Crossley

Katrina is a non-practising barrister with several decades’ experience creating UK and international legal information products and leading rule of law initiatives.