In the absence of information on the existence of ‘pro bono costs’ orders, legal charities are missing out on funding, suggests new research.
Pro bono costs can be awarded by the Court or included in settlements under Section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007, when a civil case is won by a lawyer providing free legal representation.
The costs are furnished by the side which has lost to the Access to Justice Foundation. The funds are then distributed to legal charities.
An online survey of barristers, solicitors and legal executives, on the other hand, disclosed as many as 72 per cent of them were not aware that they could get pro bono costs on winning a civil case.
In all, the survey included 312 respondents. Out of the total, 86 per cent were not aware such costs could be included in a settlement. Another 88 per cent were unaware of the procedure to be adopted obtain pro bono costs.
Former attorney general Lord Goldsmith QC, who chairs the Access to Justice Foundation says the amounts from the scheme have registered a rise, with one case churning up £41,000 costs. But it has not yet reached its full potential.
If the lawyers do not know about pro bono costs, they cannot get hold of them – and too many of them still do not know about them.
Lord Goldsmith says not only lawyers acting for free need to be know about pro bono costs. All lawyers who may be faced with an opponent acting pro bono need to know about it, as their client may eventually be put to risk of adverse costs in case of defeat.
Lord Goldsmith adds pro bono costs have an important role in helping level the playing field, as now both sides have a costs risk to consider, thereby assisting settlement.’
The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger says it is very important that everyone is aware, whether judge or advocate, that costs can now be awarded when lawyers act pro bono.
It is surprising speaking to judges how many are unaware of this important development. Without this money the Foundation can support less pro bono work, and every penny counts.