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Pro bono: Needed now more than ever?

Published: 6 Nov 2013

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On Tuesday 5 November Toynbee Hall hosted an event to celebrate the 115th anniversary of our Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC), as well as to mark National Pro Bono Week. The centre was established as the ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer Service’ in 1898, and still supports thousands of people every year with legal concerns about employment, housing, family and consumer issues among many others.

Sir Nicolas Bratza, former President of the European Court of Human Rights, opened the evening with his memories of volunteering at FLAC. He gave a huge compliment to the historical significance of the centre saying: “Toynbee Hall set an example unparalleled in the country”. That legacy carries on today, as skilled professionals volunteer to give more than 2,000 hours of their time each year to support those who have nowhere else to turn.

During the evening, four long-standing volunteers at FLAC were presented awards by Sir Nicolas Bratza, to recognise and celebrate the enormous commitment and dedication they have given to the centre over the last decade.

Guests – who included current volunteers, past volunteers, partners and law students – then heard from the Attorney General, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, who discussed the future of pro bono legal advice before opening the floor for a Q&A. The question that stimulated the most discussion and seems to be growing in recognition of its possible importance of Public Legal Education; informing the public of the law and their legal rights while at school so they don’t unintentionally fall on the wrong side of the law.

In his address, the Attorney General shared his own personal commitment to pro bono advice and the challenges that will certainly follow from the changes to legal aid provision introduced earlier this year.

He said: “Pro bono is an extraordinary monument to the legal profession. As Attorney General I am proud of what it achieves and does for so many people in need, especially here.” Afterwards the Attorney General added: “Toynbee Hall has been a beacon of hope for those in need in and around London for 115 years. As what is probably the longest running legal advice centre, I hope it carries on being that light for another 115 years.”

Sarah Squires, Trustee for Toynbee Hall, who hosted the event said: “The evening was not only an opportunity to add to the debate about the importance of pro bono today, but also to celebrate the contributions made by all those who have helped Toynbee Hall to provide free legal advice since 1898. It was a delight to meet so many current and former volunteers and share our experiences of providing pro bono advice in East London”.

Demand for Toynbee Hall’s legal advice service has always been high and it is growing: following a radical overhaul of the service we have seen a 90% increase in the number of clients supported in the first six months of this year.

Graham Fisher, Chief Executive of Toynbee Hall, said: “Pro bono advice services have become more important than ever following changes introduced to legal aid. Our challenge now is to sustain and develop our Free Legal Advice service to ensure quality legal advice is available to everyone who needs it. It was encouraging to hear that Dominic appreciates the strain we are facing and that he is grateful for the huge amount of work centres such as ours give to those who need access to justice.”

To find out how you can volunteer visit our volunteer webpage or to support in other vital ways, please contact Helen Dickens on helen.dickens@toynbeehall.org.uk or 0207 392 2946.

For further information on our Free Legal Advice Centre, please click here.

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