The European arm of Latham & Watkins is upping its pro bono effort, with London clocking up 4,000 hours on its own.
A key component has been Latham’s work fighting for Eastern Europeans in front of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As part of this, the firm is assisting the Romania Helsinki Committee, a member of non-governmental organisation (NGO) The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.
London associate Stephen Fiatta is coordinating the pro bono efforts, having previously worked for the UK Government, where he spent a six-month secondment at the ECHR.
Fiatta explains that the ECHR is the busiest court in the world with around 30,000 new cases a year and a five-year backlog.
The firm is co-counsel with the Romania Helsinki Committee on the case of two Romanian journalists who were prosecuted by the Romanian courts for a series of articles about corruption in the police force and judiciary.
Despite the fact that the articles were found not to be defamatory, the journalists were ordered to pay compensation to the subjects of the articles.
“Romanian journalists don’t earn a great deal, so this ruling had a freezing effect on the press,” says Fiatta. The case was won at the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, but proceedings are still ongoing.
The case is one of a number that Latham is fighting for citizens of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states. The firm has also teamed up with the Romania Helsinki Committee to fight for the rights of Romanian inmates who are denied visits from family members. Under Romanian law, serious offenders are denied any contact with family members, and children in particular.
Fiatta says: “Where there’s a law that’s offensive by Western standards, we’ve done comprehensive studies aimed at increasing the pressure on governments to amend the law to Western standards.”