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Lawyers announce pro bono work is now 'more important than ever'

Free legal advice cannot substitute for a properly funded legal aid system

3 November 2014

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The representative bodies of the legal profession have joined forces to celebrate the 13th annual National Pro Bono Week.

Sponsored by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), pro bono week will celebrate the breadth and impact of pro bono work undertaken by the legal profession throughout the year.

The Law Society president, Andrew Caplen, said: "Legal aid cuts and wider funding cuts are chipping away at access to justice. That is why access to justice is at the top of my agenda this year.

"The latest figures on pro bono work are a sign of how solicitors and firms are committed to helping those who need legal advice. The scale and scope of unpaid work carried out by our profession is humbling. From young families frightened of facing eviction and those seeking asylum from persecution, to large charities dealing with vast numbers of contracts, pro bono helps so many people, directly and indirectly."

The chairman of the Bar Council, Nicholas Lavender QC, commented: "It is truly impressive to see so many barristers giving so freely of their time and efforts to make a difference for people who are unable to speak for themselves or to pay for legal representation. It is the clearest possible demonstration of the profession's commitment to justice and to access to justice.

"However, pro bono work cannot be a substitute for a properly funded legal aid system, with last year's cuts denying legal representation to over a thousand people a week who would previously have received legal aid. Compelled to represent themselves in court, but unable to do so effectively, they face a serious risk of being unable to enforce their rights in cases which concern vital interests such as access to their children."

Frances Edwards, the president of CILEx, added: "We are proud to be sponsors of National Pro Bono Week. CILEx and the legal profession's dedication to pro bono represents our long standing commitment to access to justice. Pro bono work also enables CILEx members to not only become better lawyers by expanding their legal skills and learning by experience, but enables them to help vulnerable members of society."

The week will be launched by the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC MP, at a Question Time-style event hosted by the Law Society.

Speakers will include Mike Napier, the attorney general's pro bono envoy, Andrea Coomber of JUSTICE, Alison Garnham from the Child Poverty Action Group, Simon Hughes MP, minister of state at the Ministry of Justice, chief executive of the Legal Services Board Chris Kenny, shadow-attorney general Emily Thornberry MP and Lisa Wintersteiger from Law for Life.

The weeklong celebration of all things pro bono will also feature events detailing both international and domestic pro bono projects.

This year also sees London host the annual European Pro Bono Forum run by PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law. The forum is the only platform of its kind providing an international comparative perspective on pro bono practice in Europe and will include keynote speeches from the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith and the lord mayor of the City of London, Fiona Woolf.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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