Access to Justice
Local access to justice forms the backbone of our practice. Across our global network of offices, we support local access to justice organisations which provide free, independent legal advice to defend the rights and fundamental freedoms of vulnerable and marginalised groups in our communities. Pro bono work sensitises us to structural and legal impediments for marginalised groups to access justice. We believe we can do something about that and a key component of our global pro bono programme is supporting not-for-profits with access to justice initiatives.
We specifically support refugees through funding and volunteering in a number of offices. In Hong Kong we have pioneered an award-winning pro bono relationship with the Justice Centre. Our lawyers assist the centre with written briefs to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees based on international law in relation to the refugee status determination process. These experiences are extremely rewarding for our lawyers and serve to open their eyes to the reality of refugee life.
Our New York office assists the organisation Immigration Equality with asylum applications for individuals at risk of persecution, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity in their country of origin and helps those discriminated against because of HIV status. In June 2014, we achieved a grant of U.S. asylum for a pro bono client from Kazakhstan on grounds of persecution based on his sexual orientation in a case which has been running since 2011.
We have also worked in New York with Sanctuary for Families for a number of years providing legal pro bono support on immigration matters. Sanctuary for Families is the leading non-profit organization in New York State dedicated exclusively to supporting domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims and their children.
This year, Linklaters co-sponsored Refugee Run, the hugely realistic refugee simulation, in Davos intended to sensitise business leaders to the hardships of refugees, which will serve to push these issues even higher up many corporate responsibility agendas.
Lawyers in our Warsaw office work with the Warsaw University Law Department Law Clinic to supervise law students providing pro bono legal advice to the most disadvantaged members of the community. One of the clients we advised at the clinic had borrowed a sum of around £50 from a loan shark and due to an astronomical rate of interest ended up owing around £10,000. Summary judgement was awarded by the courts for this sum against our client. A litigation associate in Warsaw represented this client on a pro bono basis and challenged that this sum was due. He successfully counter-sued the loan shark for unrightfully demanding money.
Another long-running advice project is with the death penalty not-for-profit organisation Amicus. We regularly work with Amicus to provide casework support to public defenders in the US who represent death row inmates on appeal. For the last three years we have also edited the Amicus Yearbook which profiles US death penalty legislation, defence representation and death row statistics across each state – providing a one-stop reference for advocates and NGOs.
Local: Legal aid cuts in the United Kingdom
Following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, substantial changes to the legal aid budget combined with severe reductions to local authority funding is threatening the existence of a number of our community partners in London, along with not-for-profit advice agencies more broadly. At the same time, this climate is driving remarkable innovations in new income streams for charities. It is also heightening interest in more effective and accountable governance models in the aid sector.
Against this background, our approach to our free legal advice programme is to deepen support for local community partners where we can really add value. We have continued to focus on building deeper, more targeted commitments to the access to justice agencies that we support to provide greater stability. This includes three-year unrestricted funding commitments and increased provision of pro bono advice from the firm to the agencies themselves.
One of our local partners in London, The Mary Ward Legal Centre, provides free, independent advice to low-income Londoners to help them access their legal rights and entitlements. The centre provides specialist legal training to lawyers from Linklaters and in-house counsel at clients on key areas of housing law and our lawyers attend a housing law advice clinic assisting over 200 clients a year whilst honing their advisory and contentious skills. The firm was recently recognised for this approach through the LawWorks Pro Bono Award for Best Law Firm Contribution.
One of our other advice projects in London is with the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA). For IPSEA our London office advises parents and carers of children with special education needs to help them obtain the special educational provision to which their children are entitled.