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Legal Professionals: Pro Bono Work

Volume 660: debated on Thursday 23 May 2019

1. What steps he has taken to encourage legal professionals to undertake pro bono work in the last 12 months. [R] (911052)

3. What steps he has taken to encourage legal professionals to undertake pro bono work in the last 12 months. (911055)

7. What steps he has taken to encourage legal professionals to undertake pro bono work in the last 12 months. (911059)

May I start by acknowledging the work of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), my predecessor in this role? I wish him well in his new post in the Ministry of Justice.

I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous work that legal professionals up and down the country do for free every day to help people who are in need and require legal support. The Attorney General and I are the Government’s pro bono champions—I am delighted to take up that role. Earlier this month the Attorney General’s pro bono committee met and discussed how the Attorney General’s Office can help to raise awareness of pro bono work, and I am greatly looking forward to building on this work.

The sheer volume of legal advice and assistance that lawyers offer free of charge too often goes unremarked, but is remarkable. It rights wrongs, protects rights and strengthens the rule of law; it deserves our immense gratitude. Will my hon. and learned Friend join me in paying tribute to those lawyers who give up their time to offer support to others, in particular to victims of atrocities such as the Manchester Arena bombing?

My hon. Friend is a very well respected criminal barrister and has done a great amount of work here as a member of the Justice Committee. He is absolutely right to highlight the incredible work that lawyers undertake for free, which does go unrecognised. He is also right to highlight the Manchester attack. We are in the anniversary week of that terrible tragedy and my thoughts are with all those who have suffered. The Manchester Law Society did a call for support and over 100 firms and barristers offered free advice and representation.

I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to her new role and wish her every success.

As has already been said, pro bono law work is an important resource for all of us as constituency MPs. Given that fact, as well as the message we have heard that lots of pro bono work is being carried out, will my hon. and learned Friend outline what more can be done to encourage law firms and universities outside London to provide more pro bono work?

That is a good point, because students can play a critical role in giving support, and of course both London and the regions need to help and support those in need. In my role as a constituency MP, I was at the Anglia Law School law clinic only few weeks ago. It brings law firms in Cambridge together with those studying at the local university to help to support people.

I thank the Bar pro bono unit for its work advising constituents who have found themselves in some very difficult situations. The unit is being rebranded as Advocate, and it would be great if the Minister could support Pro Bono Week in November and encourage MPs and their caseworkers to make referrals as early as possible.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has mentioned the work of Advocate, which used to be called the Bar pro bono unit. As a barrister, I was pleased to volunteer for the unit. In fact, more than 3,500 barristers are now registered as volunteers for Advocate and, like my hon. Friend, I would encourage Members to refer cases to it. I do so as a constituency MP. I know that Advocate, among others, is involved in the planning of this year’s Pro Bono Week, which will commence on 4 November.

I welcome the Solicitor General to her new position. Solicitors and barristers in towns up and down the country can provide pro bono advice, as I did when I was in practice as a solicitor, only if the practices are there. There is real pressure on the provision of advice in desert areas, because private sector firms are going out of business. What is she going to do about this?

I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman also did pro bono work; he is to be commended for that. As he will know, the Ministry of Justice is carrying out a review of the market at the moment. There are some areas in which there are not as many law firms offering legal aid as there could be, but that review is already being undertaken.

I warmly welcome my hon. and learned Friend to her new position and wish her well. She will know that the importance of legal advice is a theme that occurs in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “Iolanthe”, in which my wife Anne-Louise and my two stepchildren Victoria and James will be singing principal roles with the Grim’s Dyke Opera this Sunday. Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that the valuable and magnificent pro bono work done by lawyers is there as a supplement to properly funded legal advice—from public funds as well—and that the two go together? Does she agree that one is not a replacement for the other?

It is always a pleasure to hear from my hon. Friend, who is an excellent Chair of the Justice Committee. I wish Victoria and James every success on Sunday. He is absolutely right to highlight the fact that there are many elements to the legal profession. There is of course private work, as well as legal aid and the free service provided through the pro bono work that lawyers provide. We spend £1.6 billion every year on legal aid, and we are continuing to look at how we can best support people in need through legal aid.