2016 European Pro Bono Awards
On November 17, PILnet announced the recipients of this year’s European Pro Bono Awards in a ceremony held as part of the 10th Annual European Pro Bono Forum. Reed Smith received the Exemplary Partnership in the Public Interest Award for its work with Greek NGO METAdrasi, the Romanian NGO ACTEDO received the Award for Local Pro Bono Impact, and Intigam Aliyev received the newly established European Publico Award.
Each year, the Exemplary Partnership award recognizes the best pro bono legal project undertaken as collaboration between an NGO and a law firm in Europe. This year’s award honored Reed Smith and METAdrasi’s exceptional response to one of the worst refugee crises in modern history. Reed Smith and METAdrasi collaborated to provide legal assistance to refugees on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios. The displaced suffer from a severe lack of resources, including legal assistance, as they wait for their admissibility and asylum proceedings to be resolved. Reed Smith and METAdrasi have been instrumental in developing systems to provide access to legal counsel, by working with local authorities to implement a working system for international lawyers to provide support to refugees during proceedings. Working with METAdrasi’s lawyers, Reed Smith’s team of volunteer lawyers are on the ground in the refugee camps, providing assistance to refugees facing deportation to Turkey through preparation for interviews, attending interviews and supporting Metadrasi lawyers with appeals, supporting unaccompanied minors by identifying family reunification cases and gathering necessary evidence, and assisting torture victims through counsel in hearings, gathering forensic evidence and helping to obtain medical support. 60 volunteers travelled to Greece to work on the project between May–September 2016, assisting with 270 adult cases and 150 unaccompanied minors. An additional team of 30 lawyers also provide remote legal assistance through research and drafting.
PILnet’s European Award for Local Pro Bono Impact honors the best innovative pro bono legal project undertaken by a law firm and/or an NGO at the local level, in one of European Union’s Member States. This year, ACTEDO was recognized for its Pro Bono Network for Human Rights, which matches lawyers and law firms to vulnerable individuals or NGOs in cases of human rights violations. Since its launch in 2014, it has partnered with 4 law firms and 50 pro bono lawyers, and provided legal assistance to NGOs across Romania on various issues, including discrimination, gender violence, rights of people with disabilities, and hate speech. In addition to helping individuals and NGOs receive free legal advice and representation in court, the Pro Bono Network has also worked to promote legislation regarding human rights and raise awareness on the vulnerability of certain groups. Through a more consistent partnership between lawyers and NGOs, the network aims to reconfigure the legal profession as a “consolidated democracy”, and to ensure respect for human rights and equality before the law for all, regardless of financial ability. Among its initiatives, the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights held training sessions on anti-discrimination legislation and case-law, working meetings, as well as two public debates on access to justice and the use of the legal clinic as a human rights tool, both of which were attended by over 100 participants. ACTEDO has created a methodology that it considers to be easy to understand and replicate in different environments, regardless of political, social or economic background.
For the first time this year, PILnet is introducing the European Publico Award to recognize the efforts carried out by extraordinary legal professionals who are committed to represent the public interest in the utmost terms and have done so for decades, with little or no significant reward or public recognition. The Publico award aims to award the silent but outstanding workers of the public good and encourage others to follow their example. PILnet’s legal team chose the winner based on a list of criteria, including impact on member states of the Council of Europe, with the input and approval of the PILnet’s President and Board of Directors.
As president of the non-government organization, the Legal Education Society, Intigam has played a leading role in developing Azerbaijani pro bono culture through lawyers’ training, the provision of volunteer legal services and strategic litigation. His work with the Legal Education Society has led to numerous successes at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), including cases involving freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. He and his colleagues are the few lasting figures of independent scrutiny and human rights advocacy in Azerbaijan. PILnet has a long-standing relationship with Intigam, collaborating with him on developing law clinics in Azerbaijan over a decade ago and then more recently partnering to build a local culture of pro bono and exploring the establishment of an Azeri pro bono clearinghouse. Unfortunately that work was interrupted by the politically motivated arrest and conviction of Intigam (alongside a raft of other human rights lawyers) on charges of tax evasion, abuse of office and illegal entrepreneurship in 2014. He has now been released from prison but remains under house arrest. Intigam's son, Necmin Kamilsoy, received the award on his behalf. Necmin is himself a human rights activist and had been running an advocacy campaign to secure the release of his father.
In giving this award to Intigam, PILnet recognizes his outstanding dedication to human rights in the face of the most difficult environment for a human rights defender, but also sends a message of solidarity to him and other human rights lawyers in Azerbaijan that have come under attack. It also puts an additional spotlight on the closing space for civil society, a priority area of work for PILnet’s work.