When the private sector and civil society join together across legal systems, cultures and organizations, the results are often impressive, but may go unrecognized in any one circle. PILnet’s Award for Exemplary Partnership in the Public Interest – an award for the best pro bono legal project undertaken as collaboration between an NGO and a law firm – aims to commend those who initiate it in their own organizations, move it forward, and ultimately boil down these combined efforts into positive social change.
This year, four projects were shortlisted for this award, with the winner announced at PILnet’s 20th Anniversary & Global Pro Bono Awards Dinner on 18 October in Budapest.
The collaboration between international law firm Simmons & Simmons and Legal Response Initiative (LRI), stands out for their work in crucial post-Paris Agreement legislation. The LRI was founded in 2009 in the lead-up to the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference, and aims to provide free legal support to developing countries and civil society observer organizations in the context of UN Climate Change negotiations. Along with several other law firms, barrister chambers, and universities, Simmons & Simmons provided significant assistance through the firm’s pro bono lawyers, particularly in helping climate-vulnerable countries implement relevant legislation after the Agreement came into effect in December 2016.
Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP (APKS) deployed its lawyers to partner with the Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT) in a TrustLaw project to improve existing legislation and policy affecting access to sexual and reproductive health services among Sub-Saharan youth. In addition to exploratory research, the firm will assist local activists in identifying and implementing reform to existing legislation in 22 jurisdictions. The review that was produced as a result of this research was presented in Johannesburg in October 2016 at a convening that counted members from SAT, APKS, and civil society organizations including UNICEF, the UN Development Programme and UNAIDS.
In another example of admirable collaboration, leading international law firm DLA Piper and UNICEF UK carried out significant work on child rights protection in various jurisdictions. Launched in Bangladesh, the partnership extended to the Gambia, Mexico and the Netherlands. In Bangladesh, DLA Piper financially supported UNICEF’s Justice for Children work and pushed forward the implementation of the 2013 Children’s Act, allowing for a more child-friendly justice system. In Gambia, technical assistance was provided to the government in the review of laws relating to both child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, ensuring these met child rights standards. In Mexico, DLA Piper lawyers collaborated with UNICEF’S Child Rights and Business team by conducting a national review on children’s rights and business, allowing for more and better advocacy for corporate awareness of children’s rights.
Finally, lawyers from the Regional Bar Council in Warsaw were shortlisted for their collaboration with various Polish civil society organizations in providing direct legal assistance to Chechen families applying for asylum at the Belarusian-Polish border in Terespol, Poland. Organizations involved included the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR), Association for Legal Intervention (ALI), Human Constanta, and the Foundation for International Humanitarian Aid (FIAH). The HFHR and ALI issued several alarming reports indicating that the Border Guard inappropriately applied international protection procedures. On the field, Human Constanta identified families requiring legal assistance, FIAH provided onsite psychological assistance, and lawyers attempted to assist asylum-seekers. Unfortunately, all but one lawyer were denied authorization for consultation by the Border Guard. The project, however, succeeded in garnering widespread attention to the plight of asylum-seekers and the misapplication of international protection procedures by Polish border officials.