As many of you may know, the Access to Justice Foundation is the charity designated to receive the money from Pro Bono Costs Orders. Before 2008, legal costs could not be awarded in cases where the winning party was represented for free. Section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 changed this.
Since our foundation in 2008, we have embarked upon several additional fundraising initiatives in order to increase the amount of grants that we can award to organisations that help people access their legal rights. These include events such as the regional legal walks, our ‘Go the Extra Mile for Justice’ virtual campaign, encouraging the donation of dormant client accounts, corporate partnerships, individual donations as well as fundraising bakes and quizzes. Yet one of the most important means of raising funds to assist those who are otherwise unable to get access to justice remains Pro Bono Costs Orders.
Pro bono costs are like ordinary legal costs, but where a party was represented for free in relation to proceedings. The financial value of the free legal help provided is based on what a paying client would recover, and these costs go to the Access to Justice Foundation who reinvest them back into the free legal advice sector by distributing these funds to organisations across the UK that provide legal assistance to those in need.
Without access to justice, the justice system and its associated legal processes can seem like a foreign language that large swathes of society are unable to understand without assistance from those who can interpret it.
Not for profit advice agencies do an excellent job of helping vulnerable people navigate their way through the complex legal process, offering expert advice to help individuals understand and exercise their legal rights, with the aim of resolving their legal issues at the earliest opportunity and often preventing an escalation or worsening of their situation.
But it is a worryingly critical time for a sector that has faced cuts, closures and now Covid-19. With current pressing issues, such as evictions and redundancies looming, front-line advice agencies are preparing for a dramatic increase in requests for assistance from clients who have been impacted by the pandemic and have nowhere else to turn. This increase in demand coincides with a decrease in capacity, with advice agencies facing the same impacts that are rife across a number of industries, with staff needing to be placed on furlough and volunteers unable to work due to shielding. The Community Justice Fund has been a fantastic source of funding to cover emergency, unplanned costs and help sustain the sector to prevent it reaching breaking point. But the situation continues to be desperate, and more needs to be done.
Pro bono costs provide vital funding for free legal help. Firstly, the money from costs orders goes directly back into the advice sector, supporting vulnerable people and disadvantaged communities who need help to resolve their legal issues. Secondly, the existence of Pro Bono Costs Orders helps to even the playing field for Lawyers representing clients pro bono, as the risk of an adverse costs order may help to persuade the other side of the benefits of a settlement, which had previously not been an option.
If you are representing a client pro bono and you win, we urge you to seek a costs order. If you know others taking on pro bono work, please let them know too. By implementing this simple process, you are helping to greatly increase the number of people across the country able to get help and assistance for their legal needs, whilst flying the flag for access to justice.
Just don’t forget to let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information and full guidance on Pro Bono Costs Orders, visit: https://atjf.org.uk/pro-bono-costs-orders