What services do we offer?
Support from the PILS Project comes in several forms, as we tailor the help we provide to the specific needs of each of our members’ requests.
Our support services are available to PILS Project members free of charge.
Initial questions you might have...
We cannot provide legal advice or representation to individual applicants.
Becoming a member is a free, straightforward process for NGOs and solicitors 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
*Human rights NGOs and solicitor firms who join PILS in this way do not become a ‘member’ of PILS for company law purposes.
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.
Once we receive an application for support, we assess it using our organisation’s founding aim (advancing human rights and equality through litigation in the public interest) as a guide.
Generally speaking, in order for PILS to be able to provide support, applications from our members should show that:
- the issue has a broad public interest (will have a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable or disadvantaged groups in NI);
- the issue involved is related to human rights or equality; and
- solving the issue will have positive effects for many people (will have an impact beyond one individual situation)
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.
PILS can have an initial conversation over the phone or via email to help our members establish if there are any legal issues. The PILS staff can help you figure out what your options are.
The PILS Project’s Director is also a solicitor with a practicing certificate. They can provide legal advice to steer you in the right direction. If your query relates to human rights and equality issues that could affect a broad group of people, then PILS can talk to you about the possible next steps.
The next steps could include pre-litigation options, such as connecting the PILS member who made the request with additional legal professionals, or suggesting alternatives to court, such as seeking redress via an ombudsman.
For example, after PILS received a legal query from a group of parents in relation to the proposed closure of a school in Fermanagh, we organised a roundtable on the issue.
If one of our NGO members has a human rights or equality concern that is a clear public interest issue and they have a strong case, then they can ask the PILS Project to act as their solicitor in a legal challenge.
The PILS Project’s Solicitor can act on our member’s behalf, helping them through the legal journey. They will offer legal advice and instruct a barrister in any court case. They can also organise meetings or case conferences with the member organisation.
PILS can work alongside our members, right from the beginning of the court process to the eventual conclusion – and beyond.
For example, PILS was part of a Judgment Implementation Group (JIG) after the judicial review involving Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh.
All applications for direct legal support are decided by the PILS Board.
All training requests submitted by our members are reviewed by the PILS Project staff.
If the request is for a training session on a topic that the PILS staff have knowledge and experience of, then PILS can offer their services as trainers directly to the NGO or solicitor member.
The PILS Project was set up to tackle obstacles that prevent people accessing justice – including financial barriers. The expense of filing documents with the court, paying a legal team, or being liable for the other side’s costs if you are not successful are barriers for most people.
Our dedicated Litigation Fund is specifically focused on public interest litigation. Our NGO and solicitor members can apply for financial support in covering costs associated with taking a strategic public interest case.
All applications for direct financial support are decided by the PILS Board.
Pro Bono Register
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.
The Register is a pool of legal talent interested in sharing their knowledge with PILS Project members who are working on public interest issues. This group of legal professionals – barristers, solicitors and legal academics – are ready to lend their specific expertise to members free of charge. Here are some examples of the type of collaboration that is possible:
If our members are short on time, the Pro Bono Register can sometimes provide prompt feedback on the public interest law questions they are dealing with.
If our members are under less time pressure, they can apply to request a more detailed legal opinion from counsel on the Register. The professionals on the Register have expertise in lots of different legal areas, so there is usually someone well suited to answer your public interest question.
Pro Bono Register volunteers can offer their services to PILS members and represent them in public interest cases involving human rights or equality concerns.
Is there a question that your organisation would love the answer to but don’t have the capacity to research it in-house? Many individuals on the Pro Bono Register have indicated that they are willing to dedicate time to legal research – for free. If your organisation or firm have identified a public interest legal issue that you think is ripe for more research, please get in contact with PILS.
For example, the Children’s Law Centre and their Dublin counterparts the Children’s Rights Alliance availed of this service to boost their advocacy work.
The Pro Bono Register is full of legal expertise, on lots of different issues. And the Register’s volunteers are keen to pass this knowledge on to others. If PILS Project members feel that their work on human rights or equality issues needs additional information on to help it move forward, then a training session could be the answer.
All applications for support through the Pro Bono Register will be considered by the PILS Director.
They assess each application against a set of criteria to ensure that the issue falls within PILS remit and that we are the organisation in the best position to support.