The last few years have been tough, yet through it all, the Bar has stood by those trying to access our struggling justice system alone.
Despite an overwhelming rise in the number of people contacting Advocate for help, the Bar has responded magnificently.
Not only has the Bar responded by taking on pro bono work, nearly 50% of barristers supported Advocate financially through the ATP process (#DonateToAdvocate). Without this support we frankly could not continue supporting those who turn to us for help.
This commitment is impressive. The number of hours volunteer barristers have dedicated to assisting through #25for25 alone surpasses 14,000, the amount raised for Advocate through ATP is record high, yet still there is more we can do.
Over 3,000 new cases were brought to Advocate in 2021, a 56% increase since 2019. And although we have not been able to help in every single case, the Bar has tried its utmost to assist those who have fallen through the cracks, unable to get legal aid and unable to pay for the help they need. Not just through Advocate, but through duty schemes, legal advice clinics, and independent initiatives, like the Ukraine Advice Project.
It’s true that we can’t cover all need at present, there is an unprecedented demand on our volunteer barristers and caseworkers, and although a tremendous 600 of you came forward to assist through Advocate over the last year, we simply need more.
Our role at Advocate, the Bar’s pro bono charity, has been to facilitate frontline pro bono assistance, between barristers and members of the public who otherwise would have no representation or legal support, across England and Wales, in all areas of law, across all courts and tribunals.
Of course, pro bono is no substitute for a proper system of publicly funded legal services, but there are always people who fall through the gap that need help navigating the system. Those whom, but for the Bar’s generosity, would be facing the courts alone.
And the response from the people you have helped is both heart-warming and heart-breaking:
“I am so grateful that there are people like you in the world. You bring a much-needed light for people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves sometimes in the darkest of places.”
We hope not only to assist those experiencing a difficult time in their lives, but also to provide barristers with rewarding opportunities that will be useful at all stages of their careers, from tenancy interviews to QC applications.
There is no denying pro bono helps with practice development, we know barristers have had the opportunity to be on their feet in different courts, expand into other areas of practice and work alongside solicitors on cases, burgeoning new professional relationships to nurture over their careers.
Not only are you making a remarkable difference in peoples’ lives, but you are also learning, growing, and developing as an advocate.
Don’t just take our word for it, as one of our volunteer barristers Amritpal Bachu of 1MCB Chambers puts it:
“You never forget your pro bono cases. Those are the times where you really get to fully understand the difficulties faced by individuals with legal issues facing the court alone. That is why I come back every time.”
It’s never too early, or too late, to start volunteering. It’s professionally and personally rewarding yes, but it is also essential to the current operation of our justice system.
It’s always been difficult to navigate the legal system. Imagine it now on your own, with the desertification of our legally aided system, delays to your case and society’s tempestuous relationship with access to justice.
You can be part of the change; you can make a difference in the lives of those that you represent.
If you are not already, sign up today to join our panel of barristers.
Or join us at one of our upcoming events, including the London Legal Walk on Tuesday 28 June.
We will also be in Leeds, Cambridge, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham in the coming months so get in contact if you would like to organise a meeting.
We want to thank everyone once again who has given their time to take on pro bono over the last year. To all our volunteer barristers, mentors, reviewers, casework volunteers, thanks for continuing to deliver access to justice for the most vulnerable in our society.
We could not do it without you.
We currently have 170 live cases to place, if you are already a member of Advocate, click here to find out more about our pro bono opportunities. If you haven’t yet signed up to view cases, you can do so here.
Rebecca Wilkie is the Chief Executive of Advocate.