Master of the Rolls warns of dangers of legal aid cuts as Pro Bono Week kicks off

The 10th annual National Pro Bono Week kicked off yesterday with LawWorks’ first London roundtable event, which featured an open forum for discussion about pro bono in the profession and a number of workshops.

Lord Neuberger

Lord Neuberger

The event, entitled ’Looking forward: The next decade of Pro Bono’, was hosted by the Law Society. A high-powered panel, which featured Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger, Legal Services Board CEO Chris Kenny, Clifford Chance consultant and Law for Life chair Michael Smyth, Legal Action Group director Steve Hynes and University of Westminster professor Andy Boon, discussed issues such as the effect of legal aid cuts on pro bono work.

Neuberger warned that cutting legal aid could increase the number of litigants in person in court, saying: “There’s a danger that by cutting legal aid you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The panel said lawyers should be encouraged to consider the commercial benefits of pro bono work, although they stopped short of recommending that pro bono be a mandatory requirement for lawyers. Instead, they said they would like to see more lawyers doing pro bono work because they enjoyed it.

Elsewhere, Pro Bono Week will also see Queen Mary’s University London celebrate the fifth anniversary of its Legal Advice Clinic.

The Pro Bono clinic was the first-ever undergraduate-run legal advice centre set up in the capital and has won a host of prestigious awards, including the Attorney General’s Best New Pro Bono activity in 2008.

Other highlights include the Law Officers’ Pro Bono Reception for MPs, which will recognise those who have given 10 years to pro bono and raise the profile of Pro Bono in Parliament.

In a statement President of ILEX Susan Silver said: “As we move through National Pro Bono Week we hope an understanding develops of how pro bono work complements current legal aid provisions and should never be a substitute for a properly funded legal aid system.

“If legal aid provisions continue to be cut pro bono lawyers will not be able to stretch their time or necessarily have the specialist skills to support those in need, who suddenly find they no longer have access to the justice system.”

Elsewhere, the College of Law Birmingham has launched a new project providing pro bono legal support and advice to the Jewellery Quarter Development trust and is also supporting local bereavement support service Cruse Sandwell & Waldall’s bereavement care legal clinic.  The Manchester centre, meanwhile, has introduced a small business legal advice service for small social enterprises on matters such as company structure and intellectual property.

Click here for a full list of Pro Bono Week events.