I am pleased to be here this morning to welcome everyone to the 14th National Pro Bono Week.
National Pro Bono Week is now regarded as an important annual national event which is supported by the legal professions, the voluntary sector and law schools.
It is with great pride that I can say that the first National Pro Bono Week was organised by the Attorney General’s domestic committee in 2002. I have to thank my predecessors for their tireless work in support of this important cause, which has helped to get us to this point today.
The aim of National Pro Bono Week is not only about raising awareness about the importance of pro bono through a series of events around the country, but it is also about showcasing the numerous ways in which pro bono has made a difference.
Today, the level of pro bono contribution by all arms of the legal profession, solicitors, barristers and legal executives, towards meeting “unmet legal need” is substantial and continues to grow.
One cannot ignore the efforts that have been made over the last few years to ensure that pro bono services are delivered effectively. Thanks to the partnership between lawyers, legal aid and the not for profit sector. Providers are now able to connect pro bono lawyers with the voluntary sector that knows specifically where help is needed, and can direct lawyers where to go as well as those individuals in need.
Over the past 12 months, projects including ROLEUK and the Litigants in Person Support Strategy – both borne out of the Attorney General’s co-ordinating committees - are just two recent examples of how the pro bono commitment of lawyers is being supported by infrastructure funding by Government. This is a fundamental step in reinforcing how important the pro bono movement is – not just domestically, but internationally as well.
As Attorney General I am the pro bono champion for the Government, but I also have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law. The Attorney General’s co-ordinating committees whilst they do not hold any executive powers and are not arms of Government, they have been able to facilitate vital joining up of the dots on the map of pro bono activity by the legal professions and the advice agencies.
Many will have heard the Lord Chancellor’s speech that he delivered earlier this year at the Legatum Institute, which called for a mandatory commitment from our more successful legal professionals to do more pro bono work.
His speech has certainly ignited an interest in pro bono work. However, it is fair to say that amidst such austere times, it is even more important to understand that regardless of the quantity of pro bono help made available, it will never be sufficient to bridge the gap between legal aid and unmet legal need.
I am aware that there is still a common misconception about pro bono, but let me be clear that pro bono is an adjunct to, not a substitute for legal aid funding.
The panel session that is to follow is about identifying what are the regulatory barriers that are hindering pro bono. I will now pass you over to the chair, Mike Napier.