Zimran SamuelAt what stage in your career did you take on your first pro bono case?

I first took on a pro bono case shortly after pupillage. This was through the Bar Pro Bono Unit (now known as Advocate).

In the first few years of practice I also pursued an appeal to the Court of Appeal on a pro bono basis, led by a QC who also assisted pro bono.

Early on in my career I started getting involved with international pro bono work through the Bar Human Rights Committee, such as amicus curiae briefs.

I recall the first such case I did was one in which I worked with Pete Wetherby QC of Garden Court North chambers in 2013. It was an amicus intervention in the Supreme Court case of Azad Kashmir. The case involved a British national who was arrested on suspicion of murder and tortured in prison while on remand.

Around the same period I recall working on pro bono issues of religious freedom and on cases of blasphemy, forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan following a BHRC fact finding visit to Pakistan.

Why did you decide to undertake pro bono work?

I have undertaken pro bono work and various points for different reasons.

Working pro bono was a great way to gain experience in areas that I wanted to develop early on in my career. Going to court and presenting a case can be one of the hardest and most daunting tasks for a litigant in person to experience. Often the determination and direction of the case can fundamentally affect a litigant’s life.

Parties being represented is crucial for fair hearings to take place and remains a safeguard against injustice.

As barristers we can use our skills to help. Offering to work pro bono can provide hope and light for very vulnerable people who have little chance.

In my view it is a direct way to give back to the profession and the wider system of justice that we work in.

What was the most memorable case you worked on, and what did you do?

The most memorable case I worked on pro bono was the matter of  W (A child) [2016] EWCA Civ 1140. This was a significant and precedent-setting case on the ECHR Article 6 and 8 Convention Rights of witnesses, taken on through the Bar Pro Bono Unit (as it was then).

The case was memorable for a number of reasons, including the volume of reading – totalling around 12 boxes of paperwork. I represented a social worker who had been subject to significant findings of fact by the lower court and had not been able to work since.

My appeal arguments on points of human rights law were unanimously allowed by the then President of the Family Division - Sir James Munby, Lord Justice Andrew McFaralane (as he then was) and Lord Justice Christopher Clark.

The Court of Appeal’s judgment recognised that a witness in family proceedings, who is the subject of adverse judicial findings and criticism, and who asserts that the process in the lower court amounted to a breach of ECHR Article 6 and/or 8, can challenge the judge’s findings on appeal. 

The case involved a lot of hard work, but it was a wonderful feeling to see that the court was aided by the assistance and that it made a difference to the outcome of the case.

What effect did pro bono work have on your career?

Doing pro bono work has allowed me to learn about new and interesting areas of law that I may not have normally undertaken.

Whether it is just a single case in a year or part of a wider pro bono scheme, it is one if the best ways of using our advocacy skills to help people who are desperate for representation.

In terms of the effect on my career, I would say that having some pro bono work on my desk has helped me to keep level-headed. No matter how busy we are, there is always a pro bono hearing, advice or phone call we can take as barristers. For me it serves as a reminder of one of the reasons I joined this profession – to help people.

What is the most rewarding thing about doing pro bono work?

The most rewarding thing about doing pro bono work is getting letters and messages of thanks from clients I have represented.

It is hugely uplifting to hear from clients who take the time to write afterwards about the difference representation can make.

What advice would you give to any barrister unsure about whether to start doing pro bono work?

I would say that if you are thinking about it, the best next step is to dip your toe in.

No one should feel pressurised to do pro bono, particularly in the current economic climate. It is a difficult time for many and it is not the role of barristers to mitigate for all the failures of government and the legal policy.

A barrister unsure of whether to do pro bono work should start with just one case. It may be a hearing or a written advice or a short telephone conference. As barristers we have a unique skill and can make difference to cases at a difficult time. Particularly now in the middle of a pandemic - our acts of kindness count more than ever.