Lawyer who helped end death row in Belize picks up Bar Pro Bono Unit award

17 October 2015

Joseph Middleton of Doughty Street Chambers has won this year's Bar Pro Bono Award for his outstanding international human rights work.

In the last 12 months, Joseph has provided pro bono assistance to the DPP both in relation to death penalty litigation in Sub-Saharan Africa and in a ground-breaking pilot programme for vulnerable prisoners in Belize. This year, after considerable delay, the courts in Malawi are finally conducting sentencing hearings for prisoners who had received unlawful mandatory death sentences prior to its abolition in 2007. Joseph has been instrumental in fostering momentum for the re-sentencing process, drafting submissions and working with local counsel to prepare for sentencing hearings. Joseph's work has culminated in seismic changes towards the protection of human rights as follows; for the first time in decades, there are no prisoners on death row in Belize and 37 prisoners formerly facing the death penalty have been released in Malawi and a further 18 have been resentenced. 

Lord Goldsmith, the Bar Pro Bono Unit President and Chair of the Award judging panel said: 

"This year's focus is on the death penalty and prisoner rights.  Joseph Middleton has worked pro bono on eliminating the death penalty and protecting the human rights of prisoners sentenced to death. Joe's hundreds upon hundreds of hours of work have produced remarkable results: Joseph's work has not only saved the lives of many prisoners on death row, he has also created legal precedents restricting the use of the death penalty pending its eventual abolition. Joseph's contribution across all sectors by confronting important human rights issues without creating conflict has effected change at the highest levels for society's most vulnerable members." 

It was a close fought contest between the fourteen nominees, and special mentions were conferred to Joe Hingston of Carmelite Chambers due to the extensive support he has provided to the Centre for Criminal Appeals, and Cloisters Chambers for their commitment to pro bono work having volunteered their expertise in over 140 cases for free as well as fundraising on behalf of the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

Lord Goldsmith commented:

"Joe Hingston's tireless efforts as trustee and unpaid manager of the Centre for Criminal Appeals make him a worthy runner-up for providing leadership to a charity representing victims of miscarriages of justice.    Thanks to Joe's work, the charity has been authorised by the SRA, and is seeking a criminal legal aid contract to conduct appeals.

Special mention also goes to Cloisters for the long term and extensive commitment topro bonoacross the chambers, which is exemplified by their members' collectively taking on over 140 pro bono cases in the past year." 

The Bar Pro Bono Unit has seen a continuous rise in the number of applications from members of the public who cannot obtain legal aid or afford the services of a barrister; in particular requests for assistance in Family-Child cases has risen by 305% from 2010 to 2014.  The support of the Bar cannot be expressed enough with the Unit having over 3,600 volunteer barristers on their panel which includes a third of all QCs in England and Wales.  The Bar Pro Bono Unit remains one of the few free legal advice charities that covers every area of law across all levels from tribunals to the Supreme Court for members of the public who would otherwise have no other avenue to access justice.  The Unit will be holding an open morning from 8:30-10:30am for members of the Bar, clerks, and referral agencies on Wednesday 4th November 2015 as part of National Pro Bono Week.  Please contact if you would like to attend.


Editor's notes:

Bar Pro Bono Award judges 2015:

Lord Goldsmith QC - Chairman of the Judging Panel

Julie Bishop - Director of the Law Centres Network

Michael Jennings - Chair of the Employed Barristers' Committee

Christine Kings - Co-Chair of the Legal Practice Management Association

Brian Lee - Chair of the Institute of Barristers' Clerks

Alistair MacDonald QC - Chairman of the Bar

Daniel Sternberg - Chair of the Young Barristers' Committee 

Judging Criteria

When judging the nominations the panel had regard to, among other matters and where applicable to the particular nomination, the following: 

(a) the commitment of time by the barrister or chambers

(b) the importance of the assistance given

(c) innovation, inspiration or example in the work undertaken

(d) commitment to the pro bono ethic 

For further information or queries contact Kuki Taylor, Fundraising and Communications Manager,

Full list of nominees can be found on the Bar Pro Bono Unit website: 

National Pro Bono Week event details: