The winner of the 2012 International Bar Association (IBA) Pro Bono Award has been announced as Mr Tong Lihua, Director of the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center and the Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers’ Legal Aid and Research Center, Beijing, China. The IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee, together with Award sponsor LexisNexis, presented Mr Tong with the Award on Thursday 04 October 2012 during the IBA’s Annual Conference in Dublin, Ireland.
Reflecting on his personal aspirations Mr Tong commented, ‘I would like to further promote the development of pro bono work in China through protecting the rights of disadvantaged groups and encouraging more peoples’ participation in this field. By doing this I hope to further promote the development of rule of law and democracy in China.’
The IBA Pro Bono Award is bestowed annually in recognition of pro bono work that exhibits an exceptional level of commitment and dedication to the provision of free legal services and access to justice. It recognises work, including legislative reform, litigation, and transactional representation, that has brought about a significant impact – to an individual, community, group, or country, or to the provision of pro bono services generally.
Mr Tong, a lawyer and Director of the Beijing Zhicheng Law Firm, was one of the first professional public interest lawyers in China and has been contributing significantly to the development and innovation of pro bono work in China for more than 13 years. In 1999, he used his personal funds to establish the Beijing Children’s Rights Legal Aid and Research Centre (BCLARC), which was the first non-governmental organisation dedicated to provide pro bono legal service to children. When times were financially difficult for BCLARC he sold his own property to support the operation, and through his personal effort, as well as the hard work of his team, the BCLARC has developed its own integrated model for pro bono work,
In 2005, Mr Tong established the Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Worker’s Legal Aid and Research Center (BZMW), the first non-governmental organisation dedicated to serving migrant workers in China. The BCLARC and BZMW have provided free legal consultation to more than 200,000 children and legal workers and have directly represented them for free in more than 8,000 cases. Mr Tong subsequently helped establish the Beijing Rural Area of Law Institute and the China University of Politics and Law Criminal Legal Aid Center and served as president in both organisations.
Mr Tong has also promoted pro bono work and served as leader for public interest lawyers in China. He is the standing director of the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), the director of the ACLA Committee for Protection of Children and the ACLA Legal Aid Committee. He established the China Lawyers’ Cooperative Network of Child Protection (‘Lawyers Network’), which is a nationwide network of volunteer lawyers providing legal services to children. The Lawyers Network now consists of more than 8,900 lawyers. Also, Mr Tong has pushed for the establishment of legal aid centres for migrant workers. Currently there are 31 such legal aid centres throughout China specialised in pro bono services for migrant workers.
Through his personal effort and charisma, Mr Tong has encouraged and inspired young lawyers to devote themselves to pro bono work in China. Hundreds of thousands of people benefit from the pro bono services provided by Mr Tong and his team each year.
Mr Tong has also actively promoted legislative and policy reform and, as a well-published legal practitioner and scholar, he has played a major role in the legislation process at various levels, such as the PRC Law on the Protection of Children, the PRC Labour Contract Law and the Regulation of Beijing Municipality on Legal Aid.
Ms Robin Sully, panel judge and Chair of the IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee, commented that, ‘Mr Tong is truly a leading figure in public interest law in China and his career exemplifies the outstanding qualities that the IBA Pro Bono Award seeks to highlight. He has demonstrated through his work on children’s rights and migrant workers’ rights in China a wholehearted dedication to pro bono work. He has been very innovative in establishing models for pro bono work and his efforts have also brought about a significant impact on disadvantaged communities, such as children and migrant workers in China. He is thoroughly deserving of the 2012 IBA Pro Bono Award and we applaud him.’
Christian Fleck, Managing Director, LexisNexis UK and Ireland, who presented the Award said, ‘Access to justice is a fundamental principle of the rule of law. LexisNexis is proud to be part of this Award to recognise Mr Tong’s commitment and dedication to pro bono. His outstanding efforts have made a significant impact for disadvantaged communities and we congratulate and commend him for his exceptional work and deep dedication.’
In addition to Mr Tong, the below Award finalists and lawyers also impressed the panel with their innovative approaches and dedication to pro bono work.
Amna Al Owais, Deputy Registrar, DIFC Courts, Dubai, UAE;
Efthimia Goudakis, DLA Piper, Melbourne, Australia;
Angus Gunn J, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP Vancouver, Canada;
Dale Hensley, Children’s Legal & Educational Resource Centre, Calgary, Canada;
Muhammed Abdul Muid Khan, Rest Harrow & Co Solicitors, Mitcham, United Kingdom;
Cameron Madgwick, Contact Energy Limited, Wellington, New Zealand;
Elizabeth O’Shea, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Melbourne, Australia;
Manoj Singh, Singh and Associates, Advocates & Solicitors, New Delhi, India; and
Andrew Valentine, DLA Piper LLP Palo Alto, USA.
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