Frequently Asked Questions
Both the legal and NGO worlds can be fond of jargon and acronyms!
If you have a question about PILS and our work, hopefully you can find the answer here.
But if your question isn’t in this list, please contact us and we’ll get back to you. (Remember, if you’re thinking about it, someone else is probably wondering the same thing.)
PILS stands for ‘Public Interest Litigation Support’.
Litigation is the formal term that is used to describe the process of going to court to solve a dispute or a legal problem.
Court cases usually focus on what happened to one person. As a result, they tend to provide an answer for one person.
In public interest litigation, the issues are broader. And the potential solutions are bigger too.
These are cases that are trying to change or clarify a law or policy. The answers provided by the court will help many other people in the same position.
This is a creative, practical and sensible way of using the law.
Instead of making multiple people who are facing the same problem take their case to court, one after the other, one set of proceedings provides a clear answer that everyone in a similar situation can rely on.
The PILS Project’s solicitor can give legal advice on public interest issues to the organisations in our membership network.
So, if you are working with one of the NGOs or local solicitors firms that have signed up, they can talk to you about the human rights and equality trends that you are witnessing and want to change for the better!
The PILS solicitor can’t give one-to-one legal advice to individual members of the public.
If your member organisation:
- is a member of PILS,
- and has a human rights or equality concern that is a clear public interest issue,
… the PILS Project could potentially act as their solicitor in a legal challenge.
If your organisation is not a member of PILS, or if you are an individual member of the public, PILS unfortunately cannot take on your case.
Here are some resources that might be useful instead.
PILS is currently one of the four human rights organisations that make up the Northern Ireland Human Rights Partnership.
Along with our colleagues at Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Human Rights Consortium (HRC), PILS are primarily sustained by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Fund.
The Atlantic Philanthropies and The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Fund in 2005, at a time when peace, equality and human rights are under increasing pressure.
Its aims are just as relevant today.
You can read more about PILS’ funders here.
PILS membership is open to NGOs and solicitor firms working in Northern Ireland.
PILS members* need to:
- Be non-party political and non-governmental
- Have an interest in and support for public interest litigation
- Support (and have experience of) working for the advancement of human rights and equality in Northern Ireland
Individual members of the public can’t be members.
*Human rights NGOs and solicitor firms who join PILS in this way do not become a ‘member’ of PILS for company law purposes.
PILS does not charge a membership fee.
Signing up to be part of our network of members is completely free. Our support services are also offered to members free of charge.
There are no set obligations of membership either. You do not have to apply for any services immediately.
The phrase is used (often by lawyers) to refer to legal work that is carried out for free or for a very reduced fee.
It is the short version of a Latin phrase, pro bono publico, which translates as ‘for the public good’.
Typically, it can involve both qualified legal professionals and law students.
The PILS Pro Bono Register is an initiative, run and managed by the PILS Project, designed to encourage the growth of pro bono work among the legal community in Northern Ireland.
Read more about the ways that our members have partnered with Register volunteers.
We are always happy to hear from qualified solicitors, barristers and legal academics who are keen to share their skills with our NGO and solicitor members on a pro bono basis.
If you want to get involved, sign up today.
PILS are planning to create a brand new volunteer programme.
It would be tailored specifically for law students who are interested in using law in the public interest.
Join our waiting list to be the first to know when that programme goes live.
The PILS Pro Bono Register is open to qualified solicitors and barristers, along with legal academics. So if you decide that going into practice or academia is your next step, we’d love to add your name to the Register at that stage.
Applying for services
At PILS, we assess each application for support on a case-by-case basis.
We also recognise that no two applications for support are ever the same! Our members’ needs might change over time. For example, what began as an initial request for a pro bono legal opinion could turn into a public interest case, requiring financial support.
If support is granted, PILS will clearly explain what support is being offered. Our team will also discuss the remit of our services and the potential next steps your organisation could take.
This ‘staged approach’ to support allows our members to take fully informed decisions every step of the way.
If your organisation wants to apply for services through the Pro Bono Register, these are the steps in the process:
- fill out the application form with as much detail as you can (timelines/deadlines are very important here)
- submit the application form to Kate Barry, our Pro Bono Coordinator, by email
- it will be processed by the Pro Bono Coordinator and a final decision is made by the PILS Director
If your NGO or solicitor firm requires direct legal or financial support from PILS, you should follow these steps:
- fill out the application form including as much detail as you can (timelines/deadlines are very important here)
- submit the application form to Hilary Perry, our Membership Coordinator, by email
- it will be processed by the PILS Director and a final decision will be made by the PILS Board
Yes, our NGO membership is a mix of organisations: some with legally qualified members of staff and many without.
The range of legal and financial support services that PILS offer can support both legal and non-legal NGOs. If you contact PILS, we’ll be able to talk through your options.