Over 40 lawyers from 13 Caribbean countries have answered a call to provide Pro Bono legal services to inadequately served populations which are especially vulnerable to human rights abuses and are most vulnerable to HIV.
The lawyers participated in a workshop in Trinidad from December 1-2, hosted by the Faculty of Law, The UWI, Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) under the theme “Everybody is Somebody”, Pro Bono and Social Justice Lawyering. The intensive workshop looked at the meaning of community lawyering and strategic litigation, along with the importance of strategic advocacy and communication to these activities. The workshop was funded by the Robert Carr Civil Society Networks Fund administered by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).
The lawyers agreed to form the Caribbean Pro Bono and Social Justice Lawyering Group to increase the prospects for high quality, legal representation and/or advice to Inadequately Served Populations, who not only face higher HIV risk, mortality and/or morbidity when compared to the general population but also have less access to information and services.
Those populations include people living with HIV, people who use drugs, prisoners, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and transgender people. In a number of countries, women and girls, youth, migrants and people living in rural areas are also be among those who are inadequately served.
“We are extremely heartened by the response,” said Arif Bulkan, of the Faculty of Law The UWI St Augustine, and Co-Coordinator of U-RAP, continuing that “Both senior attorneys with illustrious careers at the Bar and in championing human rights cases as well as many young lawyers, some of whom have been called to the Bar as recently as this year, have together agreed to form the group”. Bulkan noted that this development is consistent with the mission of U-RAP, which was formed in 2009 to promote human rights and social justice by undertaking and participación in strategic litigation, socio-legal research and legal education in collaboration with Caribbean lawyers and Caribbean civil society. 2
Dr Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), in welcoming the development, said “the groups we serve are the most likely to face stigma and discrimination, to be targeted for human rights violations, be over policed and wrongfully detained, denied the protections under the law including the Constitution that other citizens are accorded, and who often lack the wherewithal to afford legal representation of the highest quality.” Gomes added that “this new network of Lawyers willing and ready to come to their aid is a very big deal indeed.”
Access to justice is a fundamental human right which legal aid helps to ensure.
The new Caribbean Pro Bono and Social Justice Lawyering Group is set to contribute to expanding such access to legal aid, including contributing to law reform submissions and human rights education and training. A drive is now underway to identify other interested lawyers and to constitute sub-groups in the areas of children, youth and juvenile justice, gender and sexuality, criminal justice, constitutional law and family law.