In the past three years, the number of applicants for legal assistance received by the Bar Pro Bono Unit has doubled. This is since widespread cuts to civil legal aid were introduced.
Pro Bono work, meaning “for the public good,” involves lawyers and law students giving up their time on a voluntary basis for people who do not qualify for legal aid, but are unable to pay a lawyer. This is something that legal professionals often do to improve their skills and gain practical experience, while also providing a goodwill service to the community.
However, with the demand having increased so drastically in recent years, there are now serious strains on the resources of Pro Bono charities, and on the time of the barristers and solicitors involved. Lawyers around the country have warned that Pro Bono work is not there to ‘plug any legal gap.’
How much is too much?
The Bar Pro Bono Unit was established as a charity in 1996, and presently has more than 3,600 barristers involved with donating their time and skills to the cause. They have reported a 30% increase in applications year on year, and are planning to expand their number of volunteers.
Jess Campbell, the unit’s chief executive, has said that Pro Bono work has always been in the nature of the profession, but “the difference now, however, is that barristers are being asked to do work that they would previously have been paid for.” She also notes that there is an unfair geographical spread; because London has the highest concentration of lawyers, it’s difficult to find Pro Bono support elsewhere in the country.
Campbell also says that she does not believe that there should be a compulsory number of Pro Bono hours for lawyers to undertake each year. This has been suggested as a solution by Michael Gove. Campbell argues that their service is required, but it should not be a replacement for governmental legal aid.
What to do if you need legal aid?
If you find yourself in a position where you are unable to afford a solicitor or barrister, it’s important to know what your options are regarding Legal Aid. You may be entitled to governmental help, meaning you will not have to make a request for Pro Bono aid.
We have previously blogged on the availability of Legal Aid – read it here.
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