IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee establishes African Working Group
As part of its work to promote and support the provision of pro bono services, both by members of the IBA and by the wider profession, the Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee has recently established an African Working Group. This is intended to be the first of a small number of regional working groups to be created to assist the Committee to communicate more directly and effectively with its constituency and generally to further its work. By raising awareness locally and acting as a conduit for the transmission of information on access to justice and pro bono in their respective regions, it is hoped that the regional working groups will cause a broader spectrum of the IBA membership and of the global profession to become engaged in the work of the Committee and in the direct provision of pro bono services.
The Africa Working Group will, therefore, serve as a role model for further regional groups in due course. Its founder members are representatives of firms from Cote d’Ivoire (Bile-Aka, Brizoua-Bi & Associés), Ghana (Oxford and Beaumont), Kenya (Hamilton Harrison Matthews), Nigeria (Templars) and South Africa (Webber Wentzel), together with Clifford Chance, who are providing coordination and secretariat services. Although the group is starting with a small number of participants, in order to minimise the initial logistical challenges, an attempt has nevertheless been made to obtain a satisfactory degree of diversity and the plan is to add further members in relatively short order from across sub-Saharan Africa once the group is functioning fully.
The IBA’s dedicated pro bono website – www.internationalprobono.com – will be used by the Working Group to report and disseminate information and share best practice, thus helping it meet its goals, whilst contributing to the website’s growing position as the ‘go to’ site for those interested in international pro bono issues. At least one member of the Group will sit on the Committee to ensure a proper channel of communication, particularly in the development of the Group’s strategy and priorities, and to ensure that the Committee can provide necessary support on a timely basis.
The inaugural conference call between all members was held at the end of March and it is intended that further calls will be held on a monthly to bi-monthly basis. As well as providing an opportunity for introductions, the first call enabled everyone to share initial information on the current status of pro bono work in their respective jurisdictions. Moving forward, the understanding gained will allow the members to identify needs and create an appropriate strategy for growing and delivering its work.
A number of common issues were identified on the call including:
that in all jurisdictions the demand for pro bono services far outweighs the existing provision;
that of all the countries represented, South Africa is the most advanced in its thinking and action on meeting pro bono demand but even there much work remains to be done;
except in cases where assistance is requested by foreign law firms or foreign clients who are engaged in some pro bono activity, there is an almost exclusive focus in most jurisdictions on criminal law work, with some legislative change advocacy, but little help on such issues as housing, family matters, prisons reform, employment or the assistance required by NGOs in tackling these and other poverty and access to justice related issues;
the need for coordination of pro bono activities among members of the profession at a local level; and
the need to encourage local Bar Associations to demonstrate leadership in the promotion of pro bono work and in tackling corruption in their respective jurisdictions.
In many of these areas, the IBA should be well placed, through the IBA African Regional Forum and relevant committees, to help the Group begin to confront these issues.
Clifford Chance, London