Charity Oxfam has called on the profession to become ‘lawyers against poverty’ as part of a new Law Society-backed initiative.
Lawyers Against Poverty, which counts Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon as one of its first members, is a network of individual lawyers committed to helping people break free from poverty through personal and financial commitment.
Solicitors heard Oxfam GB’s chief executive Mark Goldring and general counsel Joss Saunders, and Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, speak about the initiative at a Society-hosted breakfast event today.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen (pictured) said there were ‘many people around the world, particularly in developing world communities, still unable to benefit from a fully functioning rule of law’ and unable to obtain ‘that most fundamental of rights’ – access to justice.
Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, who is on the Lawyers Against Poverty advisory board, said people living in poverty faced many obstacles ‘in each of the steps needed to get anywhere near to the courthouse’.
Some of those obstacles include issues over legal identification documents, living far away from the court and inadequate capacity in the judicial system.
Saunders spoke of Zambia, where 200 students '[battled] their way through their law degree and went on to do their law finals. Of those 200, only six passed. What a waste. One reason is that support to law students is just not there’.
As a lawyer against poverty, members will contribute to a justice fund which supports programmes in key areas such as gender-based violence, women’s property rights and legal support for governments and lawyers in developing communities.
They will also be able to help select and improve legal programmes which can include direct provision of legal assistance, legislative reform and raising legal awareness.
Saunders said: ‘Engagement is what will make a difference. This is a movement we’re starting today – if it’s going to succeed, it’s about telling your friends about it, spreading the word.’