2020 approaches. A year ago I wrote about my hopes for 2019 and you can read my musings here: http://costsbarrister.co.uk/pro-bono/2019/. Since then politics have changed. This month we have seen Mr Johnson obtain a landslide majority in the House of Commons, there is no doubt now that Brexit will happen and this country will chart a different path, than seemed likely in 2016.
Although I maintain a rigid political neutrality on this blog, I would point out that there is no immediate relief for the justice system on the horizon.
There seems no prospect of a return to a fully funded Legal Aid system and yet the needs of the country’s citizens for advice and representation so they may unlock justice will remain unmet. It may be that there needs to be a more concerted effort by the legal profession to do more: whether this is by arguing the case for a Contingency Legal Aid Fund, promoting crowd funding initiatives, or working with trade unions or BTE insurance companies to extend schemes of legal support and advice through building new networks where the many, pay for the cases of the few.
In the meantime, for the individual lawyer there is the possibility of pro bono work.
If you do not undertake this, then I would urge you to consider doing so, particularly if you are young or junior in the profession.
I wrote last year about St Yves (or St Ives) the patron saint of lawyers and his devotion to pro bono representation for the poor, citing the story of the Widow of Tours. St Ives went onto achieve many other things in his lifetime. The following is quoted from the Fordham Law Review of 1936 and Professor Wigmore’s article on the saint:
The fame of this clever defense of the widow soon went far and wide. It followed Ivo to Treguier, whither he returned, about 1280, to practice as advocate, while still serving his initiate for the priesthood. He took only the cases of the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Every applicant for his help he required first to make oath that his cause was in conscience a just one; then Ivo would say “Pro Deo te adjuvabo,” (“For the sake of God, I will help you”). And the maxim of his practice (said to be embodied in the ancient Custumal of Brittany) was that every claim must be founded on “good law and equity” (“bon droit et raison”; for “raison” or “ratio” in those days corresponded to our “equity”).
Ivo was now appointed assistant judge on the staff of the archdeacon, who held court at Rennes, the capital of Brittany. About 1284 he took orders as a priest, returned to Treguier, became cure of a suburban parish, and was made deputy-judge to the bishop of Treguier. The bishop himself rarely sat in court, and Ivo became the sole arbiter of clerical justice for that region. It must be remembered that the church courts at that period were the most advanced in Europe, and had an extensive jurisdiction; all kinds of civil and criminal cases, and not merely ecclesiastical ones, might come to them.
Ivo’s austere and humble personal life; his boundless charity; his constant endeavor to reconcile even the most obstinate litigants; and, above all, his humane sympathy for the poor and the oppressed, now made him famous throughout the country. “Advocatus pauperum” had already been the epithet applied to him. And now arose the saying which has fixed forever his place in the annals of literature, “Advocatus sed non latro, res miranda populo,” “A lawyer yet not a rascal, a thing that made the people wonder.”
This year I am going to repeat my pro bono efforts of the last year. As I noted then:
Conceptually I do not think that pro bono advice and representation should be required in a modern industrialised society which is well able to fund a properly functioning Legal Aid system. However there is no indication that any political party regards this as a priority problem for government to solve in the next year.
I regard it as a moral stain on our society, that whichever political party is in government poor people who are in dire straits of debt, family breakdown, facing the repossession of their home, or victims of state neglect or turpitude cannot get legal advice and representation so that the rights given to them by law can be vindicated.
As Clement Attlee observed a long time ago, when the country was in far more dire circumstances than it is today:
Charity is always apt to be accompanied by a certain complacence and condescension on the part of the benefactor, and by an expectation of gratitude by the recipient, which cuts at the root of all true friendliness. The charitable of the Victorian time seem to us to be smug and self-satisfied. They delighted in sermons to the poor on conventional virtues, lacking sharp self criticism….Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law such as an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipients character, and terminable at his caprice…
In particular I am interested in assisting children and students with disabilities or special educational needs with advice and representation on their appeals to the First Tier Tribunal. This has long been an area of interest to me, and it is an area where there is no state funding for advice or representation whatsoever. My other website on this area is www.specialeducationalneedsbarrister.co.uk.
I accept instructions for this sort of work through Advocate: whose website can be found here https://weareadvocate.org.uk/do-you-need-help.html and who kindly provide a screening service.