An opportunity to be part of the picture

Davina Patel and Toby Brown of the Access to Justice Foundation explain the role of pro bono costs orders in the delivery of free legal advice and how Costs Lawyers can help

The Access to Justice Foundation exists to increase resource for access to justice by awarding grants to advice charities providing vital legal services across the UK. The foundation works with advice providers, funders, the legal profession and others to continue to support marginalised communities receive legal advice when it is needed most.

This year, the ACL has been supporting our work by raising awareness about Pro Bono Costs Orders, particularly drawing attention to the fundamental role of pro bono costs orders in levelling the playing field for pro bono clients during civil litigation. Under sections 194 and 194(A) of the Legal Services Act 2007, you can apply for a pro bono costs order in civil courts, cost-bearing tribunals and include them in settlements.

The orders operate in the same way as ordinary civil costs and are governed by CPR 46.7, but awards are payable to the Access to Justice Foundation as the prescribed charity in the legislation. These funds make an invaluable contribution to supporting the provision of free legal advice across the UK.

In 2022, the Access to Justice Foundation awarded 266 grants, totalling £6.7m to advice organisations offering free legal advice during a spring grants round. This would not have been possible without the funds obtained through pro bono costs orders and the support from the legal community.

They have also enabled the Access to Justice Foundation to respond to novel issues posed by the current climate. One such example of this is a grant that was awarded to Bristol Law Centre, which used to run a weekly pro bono clinic on family, employment and civil litigation matters. This clinic experienced an increased demand in family and housing enquiries as people were pushed to the limit by the rising costs of living.

Funding from the foundation supported a rota that includes 14 solicitors’ firms, 53 volunteer fee-earners and 17 paralegals. By increasing the resources available for frontline advice organisations, we increase the provision of quality legal advice to those facing difficult legal issues.

For those of you at the ACL London conference last month, you will have heard that the Access to Justice Foundation is hoping to launch an exciting voluntary scheme which provides Costs Lawyers with the opportunity to make an important contribution to pro bono services.

For many pro bono advocates, preparing a schedule of costs to make a pro bono costs order can be a somewhat alien task. For this reason, the Access to Justice Foundation hopes to work alongside Bar pro bono charity Advocate and the ACL to use the unique skills of Costs Lawyers to make applying for a pro bono costs order more manageable. At this early stage, the Access to Justice Foundation is asking for those interested in this opportunity to get in touch and express your interest.

Earlier this year, a pro bono client reported going “through weeks of stress, no sleep and constant anxiety from contacting law firms with no luck… my case took 10 months to resolve, and, in that time, my mental health had been negatively impacted”. It goes without saying that going through civil legal proceedings is daunting, but by supporting the advancement of pro bono costs orders, you can provide individuals with a hand to hold as they walk towards a resolution for their legal issues.

If you would like to learn more about this opportunity, please get in touch with the Access to Justice Foundation at costs@atjf.org.uk to talk to a member of the development team.

The Access to Justice Foundation will also be launching a pro bono costs myth buster series from the beginning of Pro Bono Week on Monday 6 November. This series will entail more information about pro bono costs orders and how you can support pro bono work – stay tuned by following them on Linkedin and X.

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Opinion
Published date
01 Nov 2023

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