Pro bono help for tribunal cases

A group of lawyers willing to take on pro bono work is setting up a specialist panel intended to ensure that every appellant to the Charity Tribunal has legal representation.

The panel, to be established within the Bar Pro Bono Unit, is a response to fears expressed by the tribunal's inaugural president, former charity lawyer Alison McKenna, that some charities and trustees might be unable to afford adequate legal advice.

The tribunal was set up earlier this year as part of the Charities Act 2006 to provide a cut-price route for charities that want to appeal against Charity Commission actions and decisions but cannot afford to go to the High Court.

Michael Todd, chairman of the Chancery Bar Association, will help to establish the charity panel. He said the pro bono unit already had a number of charity lawyers on its books, but McKenna had identified a need for it to be expanded and formalised to deal with tribunal cases.

"There are a lot more charity specialists who would be prepared to do pro bono work," he said. "We have a list of people who we plan to approach and we are confident we will get a first-class panel."

Todd added that the unit would be operating by the end of July at the latest, but he would look meanwhile into finding representation for the tribunal's first litigant - a barred trustee of Sivayogam, a London Hindu charity (Third Sector, 11 June).

Nicola Evans, a senior associate at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, welcomed the new unit and its focus on providing specialist advice.

"With charity law now being so specialised, there is a risk where such advice is not provided by those with specialist knowledge," she said.

Michael King, head of charity and education at solicitors StoneKing, pointed out that legal members of the tribunal would be trained to help litigants. He added that litigants were unlikely to have to face hostile questioning because most of the submissions would be written, rather than oral.


Details of how to contact the Bar Pro Bono unit will be included in tribunal papers

Appellants will be referred to it by other agencies, which could be a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau

The unit will have two panels: a review panel of four or five people to look at incoming cases, and another panel of about 10 people to do the pro bono work.

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