Laura Huntington of Eversheds provides an insight into providing pro bono services for the Manuel Bravo Project.
What is the name of the scheme which you participate in and what does it entail?
Eversheds participate in a scheme called The Manuel Bravo Project. We provide support and advice through the charity as one of their pro bono panel firms of solicitors. This scheme is for asylum seekers that are appealing against their decision for their right to reside in the UK. The appeals include two types of claim:
- Pursuing cases where there are grounds for first appeal or a fresh claim but where the Legal Services Commission will not grant Legal Aid.
- Providing information that would increase the likelihood of the Legal Aid Agency judging the case eligible for Legal Aid.
Some facts about asylum
- In 2012, 64 per cent of asylum seekers were refused following their initial application for asylum.
- People fleeing persecution have a legal right to apply for asylum.
- Over 1 in 4 initial decisions to refuse asylum are overturned at appeal.
- Legal Aid is only granted for appeals judged to have a 50 per cent chance of success and demand far exceeds capacity. We deal with those cases below that threshold.
- If an asylum seeker chooses to appeal, they have just four weeks to prepare for their hearing.
Eversheds help to prepare the appeal bundle for the client including taking the first witness statement, drafting a skeleton argument, carrying out legal research to support the individual’s case, filling out the pro bono representation form to try and find representation for the client at the hearing and preparing the bundle for the hearing.
What benefits do you think the scheme provides to those who receive the services?
The scheme provides the client with another chance to appeal against the decision of the Home Office. Eversheds provide the client with strong support and work with Manuel Bravo to give the client another chance for the Home Office to hear their appeal. Even when we have not won appeal cases, clients are always grateful for the services we provide to them.
It is also a part of our corporate social responsibility as a firm of solicitors and we are very proud to participate in such a scheme.
What benefits do you get from participating in the scheme?
I find speaking with the clients and letting them tell their story and version of events gives me great satisfaction in that I am helping them prepare their case and effectively helping them to try and achieve the outcome they deserve.
The number of volunteers joining the scheme is increasing and we have a strong support team that all work together to help prepare the case for the hearing. It also counts towards my legal experience as I am training to be a legal executive so the experience is good gathering together evidence, putting forward a good legal argument etc. It also helps me build up experience in my paralegal role which I have just started within Eversheds in the Human Resources Practice Group, initially on a six month secondment.
What do you enjoy about the scheme and what do you find challenging about the scheme?
I enjoy preparing for the case and taking the witness statement from the client. I enjoy meeting the client and listening to their story.
I enjoy undertaking legal research into the client’s background and country of origin finding out and looking more into the risk of persecution in their home country. I find challenging knowing sometimes a client’s case is not as strong as we may like it to be, but we do and try to research the claim as much as we can so we can gather as much strong evidence as possible to try and prove a client’s claim.
Timescales are normally really tight and we have to turn around work quickly and accurately, so this is an aspect of the pro bono work I also find challenging.
What is the importance for you in doing pro bono work and why would you encourage others to get involved?
As there is currently the refugee crisis going on now, it feels really good to be able to help those people that have a real need for some support and legal advice.
At the end of a claim and when the determination comes out, you do feel like you have helped the client somewhat even if the claim has been unsuccessful. Many clients are very grateful for the effort that has been put in to gathering the evidence and research to back up the claim and it makes you feel like you are contributing towards that and helping give the client another chance.
I would say getting involved even if you do not have legal experience gives you a great sense of achievement and the people you work with are always very positive. It’s great to be part of such a good cause and to know you are helping people that need you the most in such a difficult time they are experiencing in their lives.