The Bar Pro Bono Unit

What is the Bar Pro Bono Unit?

The Bar Pro Bono Unit was established in 1996 by Lord Goldsmith QC. It is a registered charity which helps to find pro bono or free legal assistance from volunteer barristers for those who need it. The Unit is dedicated to increasing access to justice.

Who can get help

Pro bono assistance is available to those who cannot afford to pay and public funding is not available, although it is a charity with limited resources and therefore it cannot help in all cases. You may be able to get help in a case if the following applies:

  • You cannot afford to pay for the help you need, or get legal assistance elsewhere

  • You cannot obtain public funding

  • Your case has legal merit

  • Your case requires the assistance of a barrister

  • Your case involvesthe law of England and Wales.

  • Any one piece of work for which assistance is required will not take more than 3 days  (although the Unit may extend this over several pieces of work within a single case or exercise its discretion in exceptional cases).

It is primarily aimed at helping individuals although the Unit can assist organisations such as community groups, charities and small companies if it is satisfied that the organisation, or its members, cannot jointly afford to pay, or reasonably be expected to jointly pay, for a barrister. 

What the Bar Pro Bono Unit can help with

The Pro Bono Unit itself cannot give legal advice. However, the Unit has a small team of staff who co-ordinate the large panel of volunteer barristers who assist on cases. The number of volunteer panel members registered with the Pro Bono Unit now exceeds 2000 with over 250 Queen Counsel. These volunteer barristers specialise in all areas of law and can assist with any of the services which they would ordinarily provide in a paying case. This includes written legal advice on a case, legal advice in person as well as representation in courts, tribunals and at mediation. The Pro Bono Protocol for Legal Work was jointly developed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit and LawWorks (a parallel agency which helps with getting free assistance from a solicitor). The protocol aims to ensure that pro bono assistance, advice and representation is delivered to a high standard and that a barrister undertaking a pro bono case will be of the same expertise and experience as if the case were being paid for.

Making an application to the Bar Pro Bono Unit

Applications are not accepted from litigants in person directly. All applications to the Pro Bono Unit must be made through either a solicitor or advice agency, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or a Law Centre who will assist an applicant in identifying whether a case is suitable for referral to the Unit. The Pro Bono Unit works closely in partnership with solicitors and advice agencies throughout England and Wales and encourages solicitors and referring agencies to liaise directly with the unit over individual applications and queries.

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For more information on:

  • Pro bono assistance from a solicitor or advice agency
  • Cost risks