The words ‘pro bono’ are Latin: they mean ‘for the public benefit.’
In 2009, the DIFC Courts were applauded by the region’s legal community for implementing the first Pro Bono Programme of free legal advice in the Middle East, which was in turn derived from a need in the community for pro bono legal representation. This initiative allows individuals who cannot afford a lawyer the ability to seek free advice and representation from volunteer lawyers and is headed by the Pro Bono Programme Leader, Hayley Norton. The Programme is a public expression of the DIFC Courts’ mission to provide swift, transparent and accessible justice to DIFC Court users and to ensure that all parties are on equal footing in proceedings before the Courts, which is supported by the DIFC Courts.
A successful applicant may use a full range of legal services, from basic advice to full case management and representation in proceedings. Individuals who meet the eligibility criteria (explained below) will have their case details sent to all the volunteer firms.
Legal advice offered by volunteer practitioners will focus on issues that fall, or might fall, within the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction. Legal assistance will not be provided on matters which are criminal in nature or governed by personal laws, such as family or inheritance laws, as well as those originating from organisations or transactions outside the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction.
The DIFC Courts Pro Bono Programme (“Pro Bono Programme or Programme”) is only applicable to the Small Claims Tribunal and the Court of First Instance. If the case is to progress into the Court of Appeal or an additional claim is to be lodged, both the pro bono litigant and the volunteer practitioner agree to continue the representation into the appeal or additional claim.
Pro Bono Clinic
Periodically throughout the year, the Programme can be accessed through a Pro Bono (free legal advice) Clinic outreach initiative. Clinics are held bi-weekly on Thursdays in the DIFC Courts Office. They offer potential pro bono litigants one-to-one quality time, in confidence, with a registered pro bono volunteer practitioner who is always legally qualified and is often a specialist in-house legal counsel. He/she can advise the potential litigant on possible case scenarios and offer a course of action – or can provide the pro bono litigant with a wide range of options for further consideration. No appointments are necessary for the Pro Bono Clinics, which operate on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis.
The Pro Bono Programme is a scheme set up for those who cannot afford legal representation. The main criterion, therefore, is the financial need for legal representation based on the inability to afford it. The merits of the case – that is, whether the case has a reasonable chance of success if it goes to trial – are also taken into consideration.
Law firms and individual practitioners wishing to participate in the Pro Bono Programme should be registered and in good standing under Part I or Part II of the DIFC Courts’ Register of Legal Practitioners. Each firm or individual practitoners should complete a registration form (which can be found here) law firms should include the contact details of the firm’s liaison associate for pro bono matters. This should then be submitted to the Programme Leader (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The above information and FAQ’s are provided free of charge as a community service by the Pro Bono Programme and drafted by our registered volunteer lawyers. Such information/FAQ’s provided as a service is of a general nature, and is not specifically provided for the purpose if, or use in, any court case. The information/FAQ’s are given as a matter of general guidance and by way of broad pointers only. It is not intended to replace, supplement or do away with the need for professional legal advice and/or legal action.
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