Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A revolution in legal aid -- obligatory legal assistance bill in Israel

A new bill, under which the Israel Bar Association will be obligated to provide legal assistance to under-privileged populations, was approved by the Knesset in late November 2009.

Initiated by the President of the Israel Bar, Adv. Yori Geiron, and Knesset-Member, Yariv Levin, the new law made the current non-obligatory function of providing legal assistance to deprived populations, into an obligatory one. The bill gained the support of a large number of Knesset members, wanting to ensure that access to the justice system will be available to all people, regardless of their financial means.

This is an important precedent for the Israel Bar, as for the first time, it is the Bar itself which undertakes to provide legal services to the public, a project which is fully sponsored by the Bar.

It is important to note, however, that the new law does not require each lawyer to take on pro bono work, but it is an obligation of the Bar itself, through its volunteer lawyers.

The law will become effective over the next few months, once rules determining eligibility for such legal assistance by the Bar will be adopted.

President Yori Geiron: 'Practicing law is not just a profession, it is a social responsibility, and one of its missions is to increase access to the justice system, as a basic right. It is with this in mind, and after a continuing debate within the Bar, that the Bar was able to operate its pro bono program, "Schar Mitzva", for the past 7 years, providing legal assistance to under-privileged people across the country, with over 2,500 volunteer lawyers. This is an essential project, which provides legal assistance and full representation to thousands of people each year.'

Knesset-Member Yariv Levin: 'This bill is an important stage in the efforts to empower under-privileged populations and help many to break out of the circle of poverty. Using the legal advice provided to them, many people could fight for what they are legally entitled to and protect themselves, against suits filed against them. This way, those people will be able to break out of the circle of poverty. At the same time, this will prevent court decisions, obligating those people to pay enormous amounts, simply due to the fact that they were not represented in court, thereby, sending them back to the circle of poverty.'

Posted by Adv. Dikla Elkabets
Israel Bar Association

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Polish Pro Bono Centre

Further to Penny Blair’s 6 July 2009 post on pro bono clearinghouses and the fruitful thread that followed, the example of the Polish Pro Bono Centre can illustrate how broad activities can a clearinghouse roll out to strategically mainstream pro bono. The Polish Pro Bono Centre does not only work as focal point between NGOs and law firms. It is also active in promoting the culture of pro bono and in amending the legal framework in order to facilitate lawyers' commitment to pro bono.

The Centre is involved in granting the annual Pro Bono Lawyer Award, established by the Polish Legal Clinics Foundation. It has been lobbying for exemption of pro bono legal advice from VAT. In turn, if we look on the side of the NGOs, the lawyers who cooperate with the Centre gave five workshops to over 150 NGO managers on the legal framework of the non-profit sector.

The Centre is a young (operating since 2008) and small entity, but it is already quite well-known. Mind that it is a fruit of a discussion accompanying the signing of the Pro Bono Declaration in mid-2007. The signing ceremony was hosted by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal with participation of some important representatives of the country's legal world. “This Declaration - expressed Filip Czernicki of the Legal Clinics Foundation during the event - is inspired by the Polish legal community’s long professional tradition of public service, and affirms the critical role of pro bono practitioners in ensuring fair and equal access to justice among all segments of society.” (, The Pro Bono Wire, Sept. 2007) The same can be said about the Centre, and I find its ability to build on and to develop the pro bono tradition a useful hint for some current West-European initiatives aiming at launching national clearinghouses.

Interestingly, the Centre has been constituted by the Polish Legal Clinics Foundation, which underlines the link between the training of young lawyers and the practice of more mature professionals.

For more information, consult:
- The Polish Legal Clinics Foundation/Lawyer Pro Bono
- The Pro Bono Wire, Sept. 2007 (the text of the Polish Pro Bono Declaration)

Posted by Jacek Kowalewski
University of Warsaw graduate
Pro bono activist in Poland and Italy