At the end of February the Bar Council confirmed, as announced by Immediate Past Chairman, Michael Todd QC, last year, that as part of the Practising Certificate Renewal process, it has asked every practising barrister to make a £30 opt-out donation to support the work of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, in an effort to secure the vital charity’s long term financial sustainability.
Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:
“The Bar has long demonstrated a strong sense of commitment and duty towards legal pro bono work, but the findings of this survey show an astounding level of dedication at the Bar to those in society who need legal advice and representation, and to ensuring access to justice.
“The private comments which respondents provided reflect the pressure which many barristers are under, but despite those pressures, they still place an enormous value on acting in a socially responsible and publicly useful manner.
“It must be unheard of for 42% of a predominantly self-employed profession regularly to give away its primary services, free of charge, to those most in need.
“The Government should take these findings into account when looking at further cuts to fees at the publicly funded Bar. This survey explicitly demonstrates the contribution the Bar makes to the taxpayer and to society.”
Writing in the October 2012 edition of Counsel Magazine, the Michael Todd QC spoke of his commitment to ensuring the Unit remains both sustainable and independent, in order to facilitate the free legal services the Unit offers to members of the public:
"In my inaugural speech, I expressed my desire to seek to ensure that the BPBU became independently financially sustainable. The BPBU is bound to face increasing resource and financial pressure. It presently costs about £300,000 a year to run. I invite each of the 15,000 registered barristers to contribute £30 per year towards the costs of the BPBU.
I will ask those who distribute the PCF/MSF invoices if they will include as a clearly identifiable extra item, an additional, but entirely optional, sum of £30 on each invoice.
I know that many of the Bar are hurting from the cuts in legal aid and ever increasing costs of practice, and I ask those able to contribute more if they will do so. I also know that there are many who would wish to contribute to the pro bono services provided by the Bar, but are unable to do so, for a variety of reasons.
This will provide those people with an opportunity to make a real and effective contribution to those services."
The Unit receives over 1,300 applications each year, with more predicted after April 2013 when cuts to legal aid begin to manifest and an estimated 650,000 people will be deprived of access to free legal advice services. As a result we now need to focus our minds on how we respond, not only to the increase in the number of people helped but also to the disappearance of valuable front line agencies upon whom we rely to refer cases to us.
The Unit is an independent charity which does not court public funds. We are funded almost entirely from the Bar and as a result we will continue to think up fundraising initiatives and approach organisations for donations.
The Unit is proud to be funded almost entirely by the Bar as it speaks volumes for the profession as a whole.