No Compulsory Pro Bono Legal Work - PC report
10 April 2014 at 12:33 pm
A draft Productivity Commission report on Access to Justice Arrangements has indicated that that it does not consider ‘compulsion’ as an appropriate means of bolstering pro bono legal services in Australia.
However, the Commission report recognises that pro bono plays a small but important role in assisting disadvantaged Australians to obtain legal services.
The National Pro Bono Resource Centre has welcomed the comments saying the measures suggested in the report would remove the constraints and barriers to pro bono legal work being done by Australian lawyers.
The recommendations include entitling parties represented on a pro bono basis to seek an award for costs, authorising holders of all classes of practising certificate to work on a volunteer basis, introducing free practising certificates for retired or career-break lawyers providing pro bono services either through a Community Legal Centre or a project approved by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, and courts granting protective costs orders to parties involved in matters of public interest against government.
“Given the evidence of great unmet legal need in Australia, it is a waste of potential pro bono capacity to have obstacles in the way of lawyers who are willing to help by giving their services for free,” John Corker, Director of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre said.
“For example the Centre has recently advised several in-house legal teams wishing to start a pro bono project that there were no options for them to do so due to the current practising certificate regime in their jurisdiction.
“Much progress has been made in Australia in the past five years to remove constraints facing lawyers who wish to take on pro bono legal work but, as this report demonstrates, there is plenty more that can be done” Corker said.
“We welcome the recommendations contained in the Productivity Commission’s draft report, which support several areas of reform advocated for by the Centre and others for several years.”
The report also makes recommendations in relation to the role that government can play in encouraging the legal profession to undertake pro bono legal work.
“The Centre views as particularly useful the Commission’s recommendations that governments have a ‘pro bono coordinator’ (as exists in Victoria) who coordinates requests from firms for clearance of conflict of interest matters, and that other governments follow the Victorian and Commonwealth government’s lead in including a pro bono aspirational target as part of the requirement for firms to tender for government legal work”, Corker said.
“These arrangements have worked well to encourage firms to engage in pro bono work and should be closely considered by other governments.”
The ‘Pro bono services’ chapter of the draft report can be found here.