Friday, 18 December 2009

Pro Bono and Public Interest Commission of the City of Buenos Aires Bar Association

The Pro Bono and Public Interest Commission [Comisión de Trabajo Pro Bono e Interés Público] convenes and gathers a group of lawyers engaged in providing pro bono services in public interest cases and who understand the law as a tool of social change and modification of public policies.

Organized as a Pro Bono Network of law firms, the Commission provides free legal services to public interest cases which involve collective interests and thus project their effects to broad sectors of the community.

In practice, the Commission operates as a link between individuals or civil entities requesting pro bono services –- pro bono demand -- and the law firms of the Pro Bono Network -- pro bono offer.

The Commission was created in December 2000 by the initiative of a group of members of the City of Buenos Aires Bar Association [Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires] and works in association with other bar associations in Latin America.

In particular, the Commission works on four areas of interest: disability, microfinance, NGO advice and transparency. The pro bono criminal area was set up in 2009 and new areas of interest, such as childhood and adolescence, are scheduled to begin in 2010.

Among the main achievements attained during 2009, we can mention:

As to the area of disability, a favorable judgment was obtained in a summary action [amparo] filed by the lawyers of the Commission against the City of Buenos Aires Government (GCBA) seeking compliance with the 5% quota of disabled employees provided under the Constitution of the City of Buenos Aires.

In the area of microfinance, the approval of a US$50,000 grant was obtained from IDLO (International Development Law Organization) to organize seminars, workshops, conferences and publications with public authorities seeking the amendment of the regulatory, tax and labor frame and to foster the development of microfinance in Argentina. The approval of a trust to generate funding for microcredit ventures was obtained from FOMIN (IDB).

In the areas of NGO advice and transparency, two successful seminars were organized attended by prominent participants in local public opinion. The first seminar dealt with 'NGOs - Legal and Tax Issues', and the second one with 'Political transparency, citizen participation and civic duties of lawyers'. In this area the Commission provides pro bono services to several and prestigious NGOs who conduct activities related to the Pro Bono Network.

Posted by
Naldo F. Dasso
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 7 December 2009

About My Office

Osun State is located in the south-west part of Nigeria.

It covers an area of approximately 14.875 square kilometers, lies between longitude 04 00E and latitude 05.558 and is bounded by four (4) other states i.e Ogun, Kwara, Oyo and Ondo States in the South, North, West and East respectively.

The people of the State are composed of Yoruba tribe. However non-indigenes from all parts of Nigeria and foreigners reside in the State, living together in harmony.

A reasonable segment of the populace comprises traders and artisans. The State has 31 Local Government Councils with Osogbo as the State Capital.

In December 2008 the Governor of Osun State in his Budget speech created the Office of the Public Defender and Citizens Rights and I was appointed as the pioneering director in March 2009. Five months later four additional lawyers were appointed to the Office. All of them are below 5 years at the Bar.

In order for us to function effectively a law was proposed and drafted by me and approved for the House of Assembly's deliberation and passage.

The Office has power of corporate personally and its main functions among others is to provide free legal services to the indigent people of the State and embed the culture of providing legal representation on a pro-bono basis with the legal profession in the state and provide ready means of assistance to less privileged.

The Office is to institutionalize mediation, reconciliation, conciliation and alternative dispute resolution in the administration of Justice in the State by ensuring that parties enter into ADR processes voluntarily.

The office has the status of an agency under the Ministry of Justice and is situated at the Government Secretariat Osogbo the capital city of the State.

However, it can be said that the world economic situation has seriously affected the takeoff of the office since its establishment.

Already we have received over 50 complaints from the general public on disputes such as landlord and tenant, employer and employee, domestic violence and family inheritance, debt recovery, accident at work, domestic accidents, fatal accidents, breach of agreements, human rights etc.

However only about five cases of these disputes have been successfully handled by my office. The reasons are not farfetched.

Firstly, the manpower is limited i.e only five lawyers are appointed to service the whole State of 31 Local Government Councils.

Secondly there are no enough infrastructure for counsel to work. We have not been able to attend any of the cases outside the state capital because there is no official vehicle to embark on such trip. Office equipment are also not adequate.

Thirdly, I am the only person in the office who has a reasonable experience and training in pro-bono and ADR work. Other lawyers are very young at the Bar with no experience in this field.

The above scenario is generating disenchantment and lack of interest in the lawyers and thereby making the generality of the people in the State to lose hope and confidence in the office.


One Mrs. 'A', a 32yr old mother of three, came to our office to report her husband a police officer who abandoned her and three children without care and support. My office wrote to the officer who had been transferred out of the State. A copy of the letter was sent to the Boss; a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) demanding that the officer should come to a meeting in our office. At the meeting he was advised to pay monthly living allowance to the three children out of his monthly salary. An agreement was mutually entered into by the parties and a legal agreement was drafted in that respect. The officer paid three months installment before he was transferred to Ondo State. Since he left for Ondo State three months ago, he has failed to pay the monthly allowance to his three children. Now we have difficulty in reaching him in his new place of posting which is about four hours drive to Osogbo, the State capital.

Also in a related development, Mrs. 'F', a widow of seven children, is yet to receive her husband's entitlement from Nigerian Custom Services, a Federal Government establishment 6 years after her husband’s death. The law establishing the agency requires that the head office should be at the capital of the country, Abuja. A letter of demand to the agency on behalf of the widow was ignored. Litigation on behalf of the widow will cost so much and my office is yet to be funded. Meanwhile the widow and seven children are languishing in abject poverty.

That is the typical situation of my office.

Posted by
Toyin Adegoke
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee