National Pro Bono Week started in 2001 to recognise the pro bono contribution made by the legal profession. Building on its success, an exciting new initiative launches on 29 October: Justice Week sponsored by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). It unites the legal profession to raise the profile of the issue of access to justice and the rule of law. Below Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice Centre at The Open University, talks Lawyer Monthly through its purpose and goals.
Justice Week is not only a fantastic opportunity to highlight the incredible contribution made by law students and legal professionals in their communities but it also aims to galvanise public support for campaigns on access to justice and the rule of law. Members of the public are often unaware of the implications government policy has on the justice system. Justice Week will create opportunities for discussion and debate to highlight the importance of a justice system that is truly open to all.
A spokesperson for Justice Week said:
“With so many parts of the justice system at breaking point, now is the time to make a strong and clear case for why it is so fundamental to our society, economy and democracy. Business groups, members of the public and front-line service providers should all be part of the conversation. This week aims to take the subject of justice to new audiences and underline the commitments of legal professionals and organisations to improving access to justice and strengthening the rule of law both in England and Wales and internationally.”
What is pro bono?
Pro bono public means ‘for the public good’ and for lawyers it is the provision of free legal services to those who cannot afford to pay. There are a number of ways lawyers are involved in pro bono from volunteering in Law Centres, supervising law students in law clinics, or providing free representation in court.
How can you get involved?
Legal professionals and law students can all take part in Justice Week there is a programme of events happening throughout the week. A great way to engage would be to blog and tweet about your pro bono activities and how you are supporting your community. The University of Law is running a workshop for students on how to approach pro bono activities in Birmingham on Thursday 1st November, for more information, email: Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org
There is more information on Justice Week on the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx websites with details of the events that are running during the week.
There will be lots of media coverage in Justice Week about the importance of the rule of law, it provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the access to justice crisis and the plight of many vulnerable individuals who are without legal representation because of the significant reduction in the availability of legal aid. Justice Week is about bringing into focus the implications for the justice system of the human cost of the cuts and telling the stories behind the numbers.
Law students should relish the chance to get involved in pro bono and make a difference in their community. Law schools offer a variety of ways students can support individuals, charities and community groups by providing free legal advice in clinics, delivering Street law presentations or working on innocence projects. The Open University encourages its law students to engage in pro bono activities through the Open Justice Centre. Cuts to legal aid have had a devastating impact on vulnerable individuals and although pro bono should never be a substitute for legal aid, law students have an increasingly important role to play in the provision of legal advice and public legal education to ensure access to justice.
Pro bono offers a great opportunity for law students to support and give a voice to their local community but also to develop professional skills that will be invaluable in their legal career. Participation in pro bono will hopefully ensure law students continue to communicate the importance of access to justice.
So, this week, reflect on how you can get involved in Justice Week. Don’t forget to tweet about what you’re doing or what is going on in your local area #JUSTICEWEEK18