Jeremy Brier on arriving pro bono into the middle of a complex fraud case

“All barristers are encouraged at some point to do pro bono and everyone who comes to the Bar knows that that is what is expected of them. In my Chambers, we encourage our younger barristers to take FRU case because they’re very good advocacy experience, often at high levels.

The London Commercial Court Circuit Pro Bono Scheme provides pro bono assistance to litigants in person in predominantly commercial cases. The case I was instructed on was SFO v Litigation Capital Ltd, involving numerous defendants. It was a trial that lasted for many weeks. One of the defendants who had an extremely complex history (and significant claims) in relation to the affairs which were the subject of the litigation could not afford representation. On his account, he had been the victim of fraud and in consequence did not have the means to fund the litigation effort required to recoup his lost money. Those types of victims are in a very difficult position and in principle might be exactly the kinds of people that the Pro Bono Scheme could help. Of course it could assist all sorts of other claimants or defendants too, who could not afford to pay. 

Towards the middle of that trial, Mr Justice Foxton (along with counsel in the case) had identified important legal issues which needed resolving. There was no way that a (foreign) litigant in person could properly understand or articulate such ideas in the middle of such a complex case. The Judge suggested to counsel in the case, and to the litigant in person, that I may be able to assist and set about getting in contact with me. I was willing but needed to be instructed. So I got in touch with Combar and asked about the pro bono scheme and they in turn put me in touch with Advocate. The client filled out the form, Advocate speeded me through the process and very quickly and my representation could be swiftly secured for the LIP. 

Obviously the circumstances require the Court to be understanding of the situation. Being brought into a case midway necessarily means that one is playing catch-up. I ended up spending weeks on a case which I had initially thought might just take a few days! Clearly I wouldn’t want my practice to be like this all the time, but we get well remunerated in general at the Commercial Bar so it’s really important in my opinion to give something of ourselves back into the system too.

In future, it would really help if Judges who had identified that there were likely to be complex legal issues could suggest (pro-actively) that the litigant in person gets in touch with Advocate, which can then draw on Combar volunteer barristers.

It is hard to think of something we do that’s more important in our justice system than enable people can’t afford it to be represented. Otherwise, it’s not a proper justice system because it only serves those who can afford it. I aim to do 3-4 pro bono cases every year, either through a solicitor that might approach me or another way. It is an act of charity but there is a personal benefit in that it gets you doing advocacy and seeing cases that you would not otherwise be instructed in. And in law one thing leads to another. In terms of my reputation and experience and rapport with other barristers, it has been good for my career and has given me great opportunities.”

As told to Lisa Naylor, Communications Manager at Advocate.