Last October, I took part in the Scottish Legal Walks in Glasgow and Edinburgh, along with lots of other local lawyers. These annual events, organised by the Access to Justice Foundation, are great fun and help to raise funds for the Foundation. Unfortunately, the walks have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures.
This year, the Scottish legal community is invited to participate in Go the Extra Mile for Justice Day on 5 November, in celebration of Pro Bono Week from 2 to 6 November. We are asked to challenge ourselves and show our support for access to justice and the voluntary contributions made by lawyers across Scotland in giving free legal help to those in need.
The Go the Extra Mile for Justice challenge tasks participants with travelling a set number of miles in any form they like, from walking to running, skipping, cycling, or even hopping! For every mile they complete, participants can ask friends and family to sponsor them.
Whilst the Go the Extra Mile for Justice challenge runs until the end of 2020, the Foundation is encouraging us all to sign up and take part on Thursday 5 November.
About the Foundation
The Access to Justice Foundation has been active in Scotland through the annual Scottish Legal Walks and other fundraising activities, and has been registered as a charity in Scotland since 2018.
It was set up by the UK legal profession, and is the only national charity solely focused on funding and supporting access to justice. The Foundation gives grants to advice agencies that provide legal advice on a wide range of issues, aims to increase funding for the legal advice and pro bono sectors, and receives and distributes financial resources to help enable pro bono legal assistance to those who need it most.
The Foundation raises funds and distributes them strategically to those advice agencies who can make the most difference to the lives of vulnerable people. To ensure help reaches those most in need, it works in partnership with committees across the regions, including Scotland.
Some examples of the work funded are:
- keeping family breadwinners in employment through challenging unlawful discrimination;
- preventing young families from being made homeless;
- supporting disabled people to avoid poverty by achieving a basic level of income;
- helping victims of sexual violence and torture to rebuild their lives.
Over the past 10 years the Foundation has made over 300 grants worth over £7 million, providing advice to tens of thousands of people.
The Community Justice Fund was set up in May as a joint initiative hosted by the Foundation to help specialist social welfare legal advice organisations cope with the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lay the foundations for longer term renewal. Since then, in addition to the funds which have been awarded by the Foundation, the Fund has distributed over £6,017,748 in grants to 106 specialist legal advice charities across the UK.
In Scotland during 2020, six CJF grants totalling £392,884 were paid to JustRight Scotland, Shelter Scotland, Legal Services Agency, Ethnic Minorities Law Centre, Community Law Advice Network – Clan Childlaw, and Castlemilk Law & Money Advice Centre.
More information on the Community Justice Fund is available at this link.
Pro Bono Week
Now in its 19th year, 2-6 November 2020 is this year's Pro Bono Week, with events and campaigns which provide an opportunity to celebrate and recognise the voluntary contributions made by lawyers across the UK in giving free legal help to those in need.
Launching the brand new website at www.probonoweek.org.uk, the chair of the planning committee, Toby Brown, barrister and trustee of the Foundation, said: “In this year of unprecedented challenges, for both the voluntary and legal sectors, the role of pro bono legal assistance has never been more important. The overarching theme of Pro Bono Week 2020 is 'Pro bono: Through the pandemic and beyond'. We are hearing about a host of events and activities currently being organised and are looking forward to publicising these widely.”
A mixture of online and in-person events are being planned. Law firms, chambers, legal societies, charities, in-house lawyers, universities and law schools have been encouraged to start planning how to use Pro Bono Week 2020, whether through private or public events, or through internal or wider communications. A new “I Do Pro Bono” poster is available on the website for organisations to use, to share selfies of practitioners who undertake pro bono work.
Mr Justice Robin Knowles, Commercial Court judge in the High Court of England & Wales and National Pro Bono Centre chairman, said: “In these turbulent times, the National Pro Bono Centre is delighted to support the organisation of this year's Pro Bono Week. It is a key moment in the calendar to shine a spotlight on the impressive breadth and depth of pro bono work taking place across the country, to inspire more lawyers to undertake effective pro bono and for pro bono organisations to share with each other what makes 'good' pro bono.”
We are all encouraged to highlight and explore the role of pro bono in light of the pandemic, and resources, updates and a national calendar of events are available online.
Pro Bono Week has an organising committee that includes representatives from pro bono charities, law schools and law firms, with contributions from across the sector including the Bar Council, CILEx, the Law Society of England & Wales, the Law Society of Northern Ireland, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.
Keep an eye on social media and the relevant websites for more information on these exciting developments, and let us know what you get up to!
Graeme McWilliams, Fellow of the Law Society of Scotland and chair of the Scotland Working Group of the Scotland Committee of the Access to Justice Foundation