Public interest law network supported over 300 NGOs in first decade

Public interest law network supported over 300 NGOs in first decade

Rachel Power

The Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), a project of legal rights group FLAC, has provided pro bono support to over 300 NGOs in its first decade, according to a new report.

The impact report, covering the period from PILA’s establishment in 2009 to 2019, was launched this morning at an online event where over 50 NGOs learned more about how to tackle pressing social issues through accessing pro bono legal services.

Through PILA’s pro bono referral scheme, 310 NGOs have received pro bono support through 800 legal advice and litigation matters and 45 law reform working groups, and some 2,000 NGO staff have received training in law through 85 legal education sessions.

While corporate governance, contracts and data protection ranked highly amongst issues affecting NGOs, the most common societal concerns referred to PILA were in the areas of housing and homelessness, migration and disability rights.

The report details a number of success stories, including recognition of employment rights for au pairs, the passing of the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, and the right to a secret ballot for people who are visually impaired.

In turn, almost 40 law firms with 2,000 solicitors, over 350 barristers and in-house legal teams from five large multinational companies have committed to deliver expert pro bono support across a range of issues.

Within a relatively short time period, the pro bono culture in Ireland has shifted to such a degree that two corporate law firms have hired dedicated pro bono associates and there is a notable growing interest from in-house legal teams.

Through “impact projects”, which see PILA partner a law firm with an NGO and train lawyers in an area outside of their expertise, 650 individuals have been provided with advice and representation while bringing new players to the access to justice arena on issues such as homelessness, asylum and domestic violence.

Eilis Barry, chief executive of FLAC, said: “While pro bono legal work cannot and should not replace an adequately funded system of civil legal aid, it has proved vital in addressing the unmet legal need of those left behind by the current justice system.

Ten years has shown that by bringing together NGOs and lawyers under the common thread of public interest law, the law can be used in new and exciting ways for the benefit of under-served communities.”

One of PILA’s main objectives is to highlight and seek to overcome the barriers to litigating in the public interest. The project undertakes research, raises awareness and campaigns for a wider understanding of and the removal of barriers, such as legal costs, standing rules, mootness, lack of class actions and the non-justiciability of socio-economic rights.

Rachel Power, strategic and development manager at FLAC, said: “Public interest law goes to the heart of communities and to the heart of the human issues that matter to us most. Dismantling the barriers to public interest law will continue to be a key part of our work over the next decade.

“We believe that introducing measures like multi-party actions, relaxing the laws on standing to allow NGOs bring actions on behalf of their clients and developing the use of protective costs orders would go a long way towards ensuring our lawyers have the tools needed to effectively fight to improve the lives of the most marginalised and disadvantaged in our courts.”

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