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While I am pleased with the setting up of the Solicitors' Pro Bono Group, which can only be a good thing, I am tired of reading publicity being given to City firms who provide support, and also of reading about threats made by MPs to implement compulsory pro bono work to be undertaken by the profession.
Legal aid practitioners like myself and the rest of my firm who specialise in criminal defence law have been doing pro bono work all our professional lives. We constantly represent our established clients in magistrates court for traffic offences; simple summary mat ters and before fine defaulters courts, without legal aid or fees. We are simply not prepared to see them unrepresented, particularly when they are disadvantaged or vulnerable people.
The cutbacks in criminal legal aid fees leave us in absurd situations where we represent clients in court on the same date and time, where some of the offences are legally aided and others are not. We do not abandon our clients during parts of the hearing, but remain in court to assist them. We all give up valuable time providing unpaid advice attendances at advice centres, taking on potential miscarriage of justice cases for organisations such as Liberty and administering the duty solicitor schemes.
Pro bono work has always been something that practitioners such as myself and my colleagues in this field have always done and it is something we continue to do, despite the fact that our paid legal aid work is being done for less and less each year.
City firms have the financial resources and the personnel resources to participate in pro-bono work, but many legal aid practitioners have the necessary expertise in certain fields of law, which is more useful and hopefully they will continue to remain so dedicated to pro bono work.