The spring issue of Anticipations will be hitting doorsteps in the next couple of weeks. In this issue we turn our attention to International Development. Here John Bibby, Head of Communications and Policy at Advocates for International Development, takes a look at the role lawyers can play in helping to tackle global poverty.
By John Bibby.
Ask someone to say what they think people working to tackle global poverty look like and, in general, they will name someone distributing food aid in a famine or doctor treating cholera in a refugee camp. Or – in the run-up to the G8 they might focus on politicians. Rarely, though, would anyone think to mention a qualified solicitor sat at their desk in the offices of a City law firm or barrister in their chambers.
This is now, thankfully, changing. An increasing number of politicians, policy makers and development organisations are beginning to see that the law can be both a barrier to development, where it is poor or unenforced, and a weapon for development, where good laws are upheld. In turn, an increasing number of lawyers are seeing the contribution that they can make with their legal skills. At Advocates for International Development (A4ID), which was established by a group of UK lawyers in 2006, we have seen interest from lawyers offering their skills on a pro bono basis increase every year.
Much of the support that A4ID lawyers provide is not particularly glamorous. They are – by and large – sat at their desks in City offices or chambers. But the support that lawyers provide through A4ID does empower others to work in disaster areas by, for example, giving charities greater clarity about their liabilities and legal risks when sending employees and volunteers to hazardous environments or supporting them to open new offices in unfamiliar legal jurisdictions with different regulations.
This does not mean, however, that the support that lawyers can give in the fight against global poverty is just isolated to back office facilitation. Lawyers working with us are also making an impact on the world stage through, for example, supporting the ongoing and arduous negotiations on the International Arms Trade Treaty, advising governments in the developing world on bilateral investment treaties and providing the basis for campaigns for legal reform by conducting in-depth comparative research.
The value of this support goes beyond a mere pounds and pence donation, but it is also important to recognise that by doing it on a pro bono basis, lawyers are saving development organisations money. In fact, since 2006 lawyers working through A4ID have provided over £25 million of legal support to charities, organisations and developing country governments, which could instead be spent on making a difference on the frontline.
Despite the progress that has been made in changing perception, however, there is still much more potential for the law to be used to tackle poverty. Every single aspect of the fight against world poverty – from AIDS to fair trade and climate change to gender equality – has a legal perspective that deserves recognition and exploration. If lawyers continue to embrace this agenda then the solutions to seemingly intractable global problems will be easier to find, but if neglected then the work of otherwise well-meaning development organisations, donors and charities will only ever be a sticking plaster.
John Bibby is the Head of Communications and Policy, Advocates for International Development.