Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


Why FRU is irrelevant to access to justice

07 November 2012

We just don’t do enough cases.

In 2011 we represented 1,145 clients. 607 employment cases and 485 Social Entitlement appeals.1

So we helped in about 0.54% of employment cases and 0.11% of Social Entitlement cases dealt with that year.2 That’s such a tiny percentage that we really don’t have any impact on the system as a whole.

That’s not to say that FRU doesn’t do good work. I’m proud of the volunteers and what they do. They helped 1,145 people who needed it. They often make a real difference to people’s lives.

But what we’ve achieved is helping those individuals, not making a significant contribution to access to justice in the UK.

Of course, there are lots of other organisations doing pro bono work.3 But even if you add us all together, we just don’t do enough to make a difference overall. In 2011 there were 1.5 million civil cases started in the County Courts. That doesn’t include family cases, which add another quarter of a million or so. Then there is the High Court – over 50 thousand more cases. Not to mention enforcement proceedings. And the tribunal system as a whole received 739,600 claims in 2011-12.4

All of this ignores the people who need legal assistance outside a court or tribunal claim.

Some of this is dealt with under legal aid, or legal insurance, or conditional fee agreements or involves people with ample financial means. But a lot of people just don’t get help. As legal aid is cut back there will be more and more of them.

Pro bono will not fill that gap. FRU could double the amount of work we do and, to the overall picture, we’d still be irrelevant. Everybody could double the amount of pro bono work being done; it really wouldn’t make that much difference. In any case, I don’t see any reason to think that is going to happen.

Pro bono work is a fine thing. The fact that we can’t help everyone is no reason not to help who we can. But it’s better not to get confused about what we can and can’t do.

Hat tip to Jon Robins and the Guardian whose article Pro bono: do we need to rethink the formula post legal aid? prompted this post.

  1. For the sharp eyed, the remaining 53 are other tribunals. Mostly Criminal Injuries, but also some professional disciplinary bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council. 

  2. Based on the Employment Tribunal and EAT statistics 2011-12 and the Annual Tribunal Statistics 2011-12. The tribunal statistics run from April to March rather than January to February – but this gives a rough idea. 

  3. Although, obviously, I think FRU is the best (and I do think we provide free advocacy in more cases than anyone else). 

  4. Statistics from the Judicial and court statistics 2011 and the Annual Tribunal Statistics 2011-12 

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