Bar Pro Bono Unit - Jess Campbell

17 September 2015

JC 3

Following a big story in Sunday's Observer, Jess Campbell, the Bar Pro Bono Unit Chief Executive, guest blogs for BarTalk to explain why the voluntary work of the Bar is so valuable to those who need it, and makes a compelling case for why you should get involved.   

You may have seen the recent Observer coverage of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, highlighting the increase in applications the Unit has received, and the subsequent need for more volunteers, particularly outside of London.

One of the aims of the Unit is to serve applicants from all over England and Wales, and all the Circuits have always been on hand to make that aim a reality. In our quest to assist vulnerable people, we have chosen not to seek public funding. We are privileged to be funded almost entirely by the Bar.

Quite simply, without the Bar's support there would be no Unit.

No doubt you have heard this before, and to help you see the real impact your volunteering has on the lives of Unit applicants I will share with you some stories from our 'Wall of Happiness'. From tax advice to representation in the family courts, Unit volunteers are providing a professional service with all the trimmings to those who cannot afford their legal fees or who do not qualify for legal aid. Some of our applicants have recently met the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Bar to explain their experience of being advised and represented by the Unit.

One said: "Going through the court process as a litigant in person is really intimidating. The work the Unit does is about removing the fear factor." This is just one of the testimonials that made it on to our wall.

Please do not underestimate the impact of your pro bono contribution, not only on individuals and their families but also on judges and court efficiency. In one recent family case both sides were represented (by different barristers) through the Unit after 4 years of previously self-representing. The senior judge presiding said "the parties made more progress in the case in one day [with Unit volunteer barristers] than with both sides being unrepresented in the previous four years."

 

Another applicant really summed it up: "I am so very grateful for the existence of your Unit; you are all true saints and I am determined never to forget your timely help last December when all seemed lost. It is such a lonely place being in a legal battle: just knowing I had someone I could turn to for advice was a massive thing for me. You have restored my faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity - keep up the great work."

For all of the incredible work our volunteers and the Unit staff have done to achieve this feedback, we are unfortunately unable to help everyone who applies. We do not intend or attempt to take the place of a properly funded legal aid system; that would not be right or possible. We know as a small charity we cannot help everyone who comes to us, however we do intend and attempt to help as many as we can by using the resources and skills of the Unit staff and the continued goodwill and talents of the Bar. Whichever way we look at it, there are people who need the type of assistance the Unit provides.

I want to continue to grow the volunteer base of the Unit and the first step is to receive your feedback. I want to make your pro bono involvement as easy as possible and understand where the Unit can support you. We are visiting different parts of the country to learn about your pro bono experiences and we want to know why you got involved with the Unit and if you are not currently a volunteer with us, what might be preventing you from joining up. Over the next two months we are visiting:

●        Cardiff, 9 October,

●        Newcastle, 14 October,

●        London, Bar Conference, 17 October,

●        Around the country, National Pro Bono week, 4-7 November,

●        Leeds, 26 November

●        Nottingham, 26 November

I want to thank you for all the hard work you have put in to helping the most vulnerable who come to Unit to access justice; it makes our 'Wall of Happiness' possible. Thank you for letting me share their stories with you. I am grateful for all of your contributions to the Unit - it truly exemplifies the publicly spirited nature of the profession.

Please contact me so that I can get to know your pro bono story, how you have helped and how the Unit can help you: JCampbell@BarProBono.org.uk