Initially the Pro Bono Programme, introduced by the DIFC Courts and derived from a need in the community for pro bono legal representation. On 30 June 2015, this service was transferred from DIFC Courts to the Academy of Law. The Academy of Law’ aim is to facilitate representation of individuals that are in need of such, but who cannot afford to retain lawyers. The Academy of Law works towards supporting the DIFC Courts mission to provide accessibility to justice and to ensure that all parties are on equal footing in proceedings before the Courts. The services offered in the Academy of Law Pro Bono Programme (“ Pro Bono Programme”) will be delivered to eligible individuals (“pro bono litigants”) who approach the DIFC Courts’ Registry requesting assistance. To ensure consistency of pro bono representation, information and procedures, the Academy of Law provide the following guidelines in relation to the Programme.
In addition, to enable greater accessibility the Pro Bono Programme introduces Pro Bono clinics which run on a regular basis providing brief legal advice about matters relating to the DIFC.
- The following may participate in the Pro Bono Programme (as a “volunteer practitioner”):
- Any person or firm registered in the Academy of Law’ Register of Legal Practitioners; and
- Any person or firm who or which does not qualify under (a.) above but who or which satisfies the Pro Bono Programme Leader that he/she/it is legally qualified to give pro bono advice.
- If a pro bono litigant directly contacts a volunteer practitioner, the volunteer practitioner should ask the individual to contact the Pro Bono Programme Leader at the Academy of Law’ directly for assistance on the Academy of Law’ Pro Bono email: Pro.email@example.com.
- The Pro Bono Programme Leader (“Programme Leader”) will be chosen by the Head of the Dispute Resolution Authority. The Programme Leader will be responsible for all aspects of the operation and administration of the Programme.
- Each individual practitioner wishing to take part in the Pro Bono Programme should complete the Volunteer Form and submit it to the Programme Leader. The completed form should be sent by email to the Programme Leader at Pro.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Any firm wishing to register shall include in its Law Firm Volunteer Form, The among other things, the details of a person in the firm with whom the DIFC Courts shall liaise for pro bono matters, including the referral of pro bono litigants. The completed Law Firm Volunteer Form should be sent by email to the Programme Leader at Pro.email@example.com.
- There are several legal matters that fall outside the purview of our pro bono programme. The legal advice that our volunteer practitioners provide will be focused on issues that do or might fall within the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction. We do not provide legal assistance on matters which are criminal in nature or which are governed by personal laws, such as family or inheritance laws, or those originating from organisations or transactions outside our jurisdiction.
- A pro bono litigant should complete a pro bono litigant Intake Form. The completed form should be sent by email to the Programme Leader at Pro.firstname.lastname@example.org. The intake form requires the pro bono litigant to briefly describe the nature of their claim, their financial position and the type of remedy sought. In order for a pro bono litigant to be eligible for the Programme, and to continue to retain free legal services, the pro bono litigant must provide evidence to the Programme Leader that he/she cannot afford a lawyer. It is at the discretion of the Programme Leader as to the evidence required, and based on that evidence; the Programme Leader will decide whether the litigant is eligible for the Programme. It must be recognised that the decision of the Programme Leader is final.
- A pro bono litigant must notify the volunteer practitioner and the Programme Leader if, at any time during the course of pro bono representation, his or her financial position changes such that he/she is, or will be able, to retain a lawyer. Failure to notify the volunteer practitioner and Programme Leader of such a change in the pro bono litigant’s financial circumstances may result in him or her being held liable for the legal costs and any fees waived under this Programme.
- Once an applicant has been admitted into the Programme, he/she will be added to the Pro Bono Register, and a volunteer practitioner will be assigned. The Programme Leader will endeavour to allocate no more than one pro bono litigant to each volunteer practitioner at any given time. However, there may be instances in which that number is exceeded.
- The successful applicant will be entitled to free legal services, but this is only in relation to his/her own legal costs. Save as provided for in paragraph 11 below, the pro bono litigant will most likely have to cover the legal costs of the other party or parties in the event that the pro bono litigant loses the case.
- There can be instances in which a pro bono litigant may be entitled to a cost free trial, where he/she will not be obligated to meet the legal costs of the opposing party or parties even if the pro bono litigant loses his or her case. The pro bono litigant will only be entitled to this once an application has been approved by the DIFC Courts’ Pro Bono Panel (the ‘Panel’).
Not all applications for a cost free trial will be forwarded for the consideration of the Panel. Only certain qualifying applications will be put forward to the Panel for its consideration. The legal representative of the pro bono litigant (the law firm that agreed to pursue the pro bono litigant’s case) must support a pro bono applicant’s application for a cost free trial, and must certify that in their opinion there is a reasonable prospect of the pro bono applicant’s case succeeding. Similarly, the opposing party’s or parties’ legal representative will be given the opportunity to respond to the application for a cost free trial and may provide its submissions about why the pro bono litigant should not be permitted a cost free trial. A pro bono litigant may only be granted a cost free trial once the application has been forwarded to the Panel by the Programme Leader and the Panel has subsequently determined that the applicant meets the threshold of financial inability, case merit and such other criteria as the Panel may determine is relevant from time to time. The Panel has absolute discretion as to whether an applicant meets the threshold for a cost free trial. The overview by which the Panel operates is attached.
- A pro bono litigant can at any time apply to the Programme Leader to have the court fees suspended until the end of the case. The Programme Leader has absolute discretion in determining whether court fees are to be suspended and to what extent.
- If the pro bono litigant’s action is successful and the litigant is awarded costs, all legal costs and court fees are payable to the DIFC Courts’ Pro Bono Fund. Assessment shall be undertaken on a summary basis by a Judge or the Registrar. Parties should consider Practice Direction no. 5 of 2011 – Cost Order in Favour of Party represented Pro Bono.
- When a volunteer practitioner takes on a pro bono engagement, both the volunteer practitioner and the pro bono litigant should sign a letter of engagement which outlines the scope of the pro bono engagement. A sample letter for law firms is attached and for other examples (eg. such as in–house counsel, non-practising lawyers etc.) please contact the Courts’ Pro Bono team at Pro.email@example.com. One copy will be retained by the volunteer practitioner; one copy will be provided to the pro bono litigant; and a third copy will be provided to the Programme Leader.
- Each pro bono engagement must be clearly defined in the pro bono letter of engagement in respect to the type of service and scope of work to be provided. Pro bono engagements can range from basic advice to full case management and trial, as well as representation in proceedings. The pro bono engagement only encompasses the Court of First Instance. If the pro bono litigant and the volunteer practitioner agree to continue the representation to cover an appeal or additional claim, a new pro bono letter of engagement will need to be submitted to the Programme Leader. In the absence of such agreement, the pro bono litigant may apply to the Programme Leader requesting a referral to another volunteer practitioner.
- If a pro bono litigant is not satisfied with the type of service and/or scope of work offered by the volunteer practitioner or for any other valid reason, he/she may approach the Programme Leader to request a change in representation. The Programme Leader has the absolute discretion to determine whether to assign the pro bono litigant an alternative volunteer practitioner.
- Volunteer practitioners which are firms shall ensure that pro bono litigants and their matters are administered and handled to the same high standards as for non-pro bono clients. All volunteer practitioners who represent pro bono clients in proceedings before the DIFC Courts must act in accordance with the Code of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners issued by the DIFC Courts.
- In the interests of promoting accessibility to representation for pro bono litigants, the DIFC Courts reserve the right to waive the requirement of Part II registration in order for a volunteer practitioner (and where the volunteer practitioner is a firm, for lawyers of that firm) to appear in Court in relation to pro bono cases only. Upon application to, and acceptance by, the Programme Leader a volunteer practitioner (and where the volunteer practitioner is a firm, a lawyer of that firm) may represent the pro bono litigant in Court.
- The Programme Leader will maintain a confidential spread sheet detailing the number of occasions on which a volunteer practitioner has agreed to provide assistance to a pro bono litigant. From time to time, the spread sheet will be reviewed by the Programme Leader to determine which volunteer practitioner should remain on the Pro Bono Register.