Perhaps you haven't heard of, or come across, Prisoners Abroad. I certainly hadn't until this month, when the charity announced that Lord Neuberger, former president of the Supreme Court, was joining as a trustee.
Prisoners Abroad began life in 1978 as the National Council for the Welfare of Prisoners Abroad, helping to safeguard the welfare and human rights of British citizens detained overseas. Like so many charities, it does noble work. The charity does not give legal advice but a chat with one its senior caseworkers highlighted an interesting way that solicitors can help prisoners abroad and their families.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office publishes a list of overseas English-speaking lawyers. The FCO stresses that the lists aren't government recommendations. The information is compiled by British embassies, high commissions and consulates abroad. Matthew Pinches, a senior caseworker at Prisoners Abroad, says consulate staff compiling the lists aren't legally trained. The last thing a distressed and scared prisoner or their anxious family need is to call up a local lawyer to handle their case, only to discover that the lawyer does not deal with the offence in question.
Pinches thinks lawyers in this country would be ideal to do that vital checking and monitoring.
Neuberger says many cases that appear before the Supreme Court concern the alleged infringement of fundamental or human rights. 'Many prisoners abroad face profound and sometimes horrifying problems. Severe overcrowding, lack of food and water, no medical care, violence, language barriers, no contact with family, total or virtual isolation - often for many years, and sometimes even worse with no knowledge of when, or even if, it will end.'
Lawyers here may feel there's not much they can do to help overseas prisoners. But solicitors could play a vital role checking and monitoring those government lists. All without leaving your desk.