Law Soc lends weight to Nigeria human rights pro bono scheme

The Law Society has been working on a project to promote pro bono legal services to Nigerian state governments.

The three-year, E1.25m (£845,000) Nigeria Law Project is based around the concept of a court duty solicitor scheme. It was initiated in 1999 via a partnership between the Law Society and the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, a Nigerian non-governmental organisation.

The project hopes to train 750 lawyers in human rights skills and practice management, who will form a pool of duty solicitors across the country providing pro bono services in court to indigenous defendants, with priority given to cases defending women and children.

Sara Chandler, a member of the Law Society’s advisory board and a professor at the College of Law, who works at the college’s legal advice centre, recently visited Nigeria to facilitate an ‘Advocacy for Change’ workshop, which is part of the second phase of the project.

Chandler worked as a trainer in the workshop and was joined by Vincent Saldanha of the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa and Ernest Ojukwu, head of the Nigeria Law School and president of the Network of University Legal Aid Institutions.

Chandler said: “Working with pro bono volunteers in the workshop revealed to me the sheer dedication of a group of volunteers who are building a system out of really very little.”

The workshop was designed to equip trainees with the practical skills necessary to engage with state officials and to help them go about recruiting private practice lawyers into the pro bono scheme. It also dealt with ways to secure funding and gave guidance on managing the project.

The second phase of the Nigeria Law Project, which has been funded by the European Commission and the Irish development agency Trócaire, has extended the duty solicitor scheme to 15 of Nigeria’s 36 states.

By the end of the project it is hoped that the state governments will have taken on full financial and management responsibility for the scheme.