The Unit acts as a clearing house, matching barristers prepared to undertake pro bono work with those who need their help.
The Unit receives applications for assistance through advice agencies and solicitors. The Unit aims to help in cases where the applicant cannot afford to pay for the assistance sought or obtain public funding, has a meritorious case, and needs the help a barrister can provide.
Applications are reviewed by one of a number of senior barristers, and the Unit then makes a decision as to whether or not to try to find a volunteer barrister to assist.
If the decision is that help should be given, the caseworkers try to find a volunteer of the appropriate level of experience to take on the piece of work required. Cases are only ever given help on a step by step basis, and any further work required will need a re-review of the file by the Unit to consider the request in light of any advice or representation already provided.
If the decision is that help cannot be given, the Unit will write to confirm that decision, giving a brief reason why. Detailed reasons cannot be given for professional reasons.
The Unit has a small team of staff who co-ordinate the large panel of volunteers who assist on cases. The office itself is unable to give legal advice.
The Unit works closely in partnership with the voluntary sector and with other pro bono providers, and is involved in a variety of projects and activities some of which are described in other areas of this site.
The Bar Pro Bono Unit was established in 1996 by Peter Goldsmith QC, with 350 panel members and premises in Gray's Inn.
In the first year the Unit was awarded the Silver Medal at The Lawyer/HIFAL Awards and by 1998 the Unit's coverage reached 50 areas of law. By the year 2000 the number of panel members exceeded 1000 and the Bar in the Community scheme was established.
2004 saw the Unit relocate to bespoke premises at High Holborn, with the Free Representation Unit (FRU) alongside. The same year the Unit hosted the first "Early Bird" plenary seminar on pro bono work held at the Bar Conference and hosted by the Vice Chairman of the Bar.
Today the number of panel members exceeds 2000 with over 250 QCs. With a staff of seven (six full-time and two job share) and a dedicated management committee the Unit hosts a number of events and is involved in collaborative projects promoting pro bono projects and extending access to pro bono assistance.
Click Here to read Lord Goldsmith QC's article from Times Online on "How to . . . do pro bono work".