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The first of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) principles is that solicitors should act “in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice.” This is particularly important for lawyers working in the charitable sector, since charities often play an integral part in upholding the rule of law within society - but what does the ‘rule of law’ actually mean?
According to the United Nations (UN), the rule of law is “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.” Essentially this means that ‘no one is above the law’.
Jurisdictions with a robust rule of law tend to have better levels of social and economic development, from lower rates of corruption and child mortality to higher GDP and life expectancy.
Although the rule of law is ideally upheld by the state, in practice it often falls on charities to provide citizens with equal access to justice, to keep a check on any overreach of the executive and hold Parliament to account. As such, the charitable sector is a vital element of achieving and maintaining a social structure which successfully encompasses the rule of law.
Charities often play a vital role in ensuring that everyone in society has access to the law and receives sufficient legal representation. In the UK, one of the most well-known charities that helps to uphold the rule of law is the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB). Its advisers provide free and impartial legal advice to citizens on a wide range of issues, from consumer rights and debt, through to housing and family law. Many lawyers donate some of their time to charitable work in an effort to strengthen the rule of law - eg Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit) connects barristers offering pro bono work to members of the public who cannot afford legal fees.
Some charities are set up to promote specific causes such as human rights (eg Amnesty International) or environmental law (eg Client Earth), often fighting landmark cases, lobbying Parliament or holding Government to account through Judicial Review. Global charities can even help to achieve international peace and security and political stability.
Charities which focus on humanitarian efforts, such as preventing hunger and disease, are also contributing to upholding the rule of law, by striving to ensure international human rights are applied to everyone.
Charities which strive to uphold the rule of law often lack the resources afforded to private practice lawyers or in-house counsel. During the period of lockdown brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, lawyers working for charities have limited access to their community of peers, legal libraries and other vital resources, and funding models have been hit hard. At the same time, charities are being inundated as never before, with mass unemployment pushing many citizens into poverty. Meanwhile, medical charities are supporting healthcare systems around the world which have been put under huge amounts of strain by the spread of the virus. With emergency legislation and measures being hurried in to tackle the global emergency, there is an increased risk of infringing on the rights of citizens, prompting scrutiny by human rights charities (eg Privacy International has raised major concerns about contact tracing apps).
In order to help combat this challenge, and in line with our purpose to progress the rule of law around the world, LexisNexis is giving registered charities complimentary access to LexisLibrary and LexisPSL content. This will ensure that access to the law can be maintained despite the difficult climate. To find out more, or if you are a registered charity, click here to request your access.
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Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"
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