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A former Simmons & Simmons lawyer is setting out to help vulnerable children in Pakistan and build up a network highlighting the value of pro bono work in the country.
Mahnaz Malik, previously a litigation associate with Simmons in London, is coordinating the scheme with help from the Law Society.
Named 'Project Advocate', the scheme will provide access to justice for children in detention in Pakistan. Nearly half of Pakistan's population is under 18 and recent cases that have come to light involve children as young as six being arrested for offences such as theft.
"We're helping children, but also creating a culture of pro bono," Malik explains.
Malik said the launch of Project Advocate in April was the result of two years of collaboration between the Law Society and the British Pakistan Law Council, which she founded in 2004 to ally the UK and Pakistani legal communities.
"We didn't want the British Pakistan Law Council to be just a talking shop," she says. "We wanted a project to bring the two legal communities together. Pro bono is something that's growing in prominence."
The project currently has around 80 lawyers signed on to provide pro bono work in Pakistan, but Malik said it is difficult to say how many cases it will be able to take on per year. "I'm hoping to help as many people as we can," she says.
One of the scheme's distinguishing features is the youth of its team. "We're using young people to help young people. They're more enthusiastic," says Malik.
Project Advocate has received funding of £400,000 from the European Commission, £51,400 from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and £12,500 from the Law Society charity. It was formally launched on 11 April by Cherie Booth QC of Matrix Chambers at the Law Society.
Law Society president Kevin Martin says: "This is an opportunity to improve access to justice for children in detention and to strengthen the rule of law through legal representation. We hope this kind of project will be replicated throughout Pakistan and beyond."
Malik says she hopes the project will extend to educating Pakistanis about their rights through the use of tools such as posters in police stations.
She credits City firms, including Simmons and Richards Butler, for their support in getting the scheme up and running.
Malik can be contacted at lahoreadvocate @gmail.com.