Junior lawyers at DLA Piper explain how their work with Reprieve makes a difference
DLA Piper has committed to pro bono work by developing projects, partnerships and clinics with non-profit and charity organisations, law centres and universities across the UK. One example is DLA Piper’s ongoing partnership with Reprieve. Reprieve’s main objective is to use strategic interventions to fight the use of the death penalty, secret prisons and targeted assassinations by oppressive Governments, whilst challenging the orthodoxy/notion that such tactics/abuses can be justified as part of what has been called the “War on Terror”. The partnership consists of an ongoing mini-secondment, where two to three lawyers from DLA Piper provide volunteer support at the Reprieve offices every Friday. Volunteers assist Reprieve by donating their time and skills to help with casework and research.
We work on a wide range of tasks with Reprieve. This could be work concerning litigious cases involving those detained on death rows, in secret prisons, or facing imminent threat of targeted extrajudicial execution. These cases have massive individual impact; the appeal handled by Reprieve could mean the difference between life and death. Appeals cases also create important precedents, which could ensure proper administration of justice in the first instance for future cases. We also complete various research tasks, which may inform policy decisions with respect to adherence to international or domestic law; research reports; and/or advocacy efforts. These could have significant, long term impacts in ensuring that international standards are implemented and enforced in the realm of extreme human rights abuses such as the death penalty, secret prisons and targeted assassinations.
Working with Reprieve has broadened our horizons in terms of learning about, and working on, death penalty cases. It has highlighted systemic problems concerning how some of the world’s justice systems handle individuals who are accused of committing serious offences, and the disproportionate cost to the states’ resources and to human life in a system which is open to abuse and riddled with injustice. The range of tasks at Reprieve means that, from a personal perspective, we are able to develop our skills in international legislative research, policy research, and litigation. The international nature of these tasks mean that we acquire skills which are highly transferable in the context of work at a global law firm. It also enables us to develop our skill sets outside of our existing practices. This enables us to be more well-rounded lawyers and allows us to expand into different areas of legal interest.
The Reprieve mini-secondment offers an opportunity for us to learn about areas of international law which we would not normally have exposure to, and to apply our transferable skills and experience to cases of extreme human rights abuses in order to make a positive impact. Providing free legal support to those among the world’s most vulnerable is a truly rewarding way to widen our legal education. It is also very fulfilling to see tangible results through our work; tasks completed on a secondment day could contribute to those facing the death penalty being granted reprieve. The most difficult part of working with Reprieve is the very personal and sometimes distressing nature of the work. Reprieve deals with strategic casework and projects, but they communicate the issues they work on through individual human stories, all of which convey a sense of great injustice and suffering. Working on death penalty cases means that individuals we are working to protect could face execution while we are involved in a case. This is of course countered by the best parts of the work, where positive results mean that an individual is granted a reprieve from their sentence. In addition, the broader category of cases, of which theirs is a subset, comes under public, judicial and political scrutiny, thereby shifting the debate on the issue, and sometimes culminating in legal judgments or legislation with wide and far-reaching positive human rights implications.
As lawyers, we are privileged enough to have developed specialised, sought-after legal skills. Access to legal advice and services can be prohibitively expensive for many in society. We have a moral and social obligation to assist those with limited or no means to access legal representation where we can. It is also important to be aware of both national and international issues affecting the most vulnerable in our communities. In addition to benefits to the wider community, we would encourage others to get involved as pro bono work allows for exposure to diverse and challenging areas of law. Work may be very different from their regular practice areas, and offers an opportunity to improve and broaden their existing legal skills and interact with people from a wide range of different sectors.
DLA Piper would like to acknowledge the following junior lawyers for their contribution to the programme: