Pro-Bono Services

Established in 2004, the Voluntary Assistance Scheme (VAS) is the formal pro-bono vehicle of The Bar of Ireland, matching the needs of NGO’s & civil society groups with the volunteering expertise at the Bar.

The Bar of Ireland recognises that in order for any legal system to operate at its optimum level, access must be available to all. Vulnerable sections of society often encounter difficulties in accessing the legal system. While there are state-run initiatives aimed at reducing such difficulties, these are insufficient, and The Bar of Ireland strives to do what it can to address this.

Voluntary Assistance Scheme

VAS provides assistance to charities and civil society groups in two ways:

1. To the requesting organisation itself – for legal issues arising for the organisation.

2. To an individual as a client of a requesting organisation – in these circumstances

VAS will gladly provide assistance, but it can only be via the requesting organisation acting as an intermediary.

Areas of law in which we have assisted NGOs and charities

  • Social Welfare appeals
  • Employment Law
  • Equality law issues
  • Debt-related issues
  • Housing Issues
  • Landlord and tenant issues
  • Prison related issues

VAS does not provide services in family law, child care law or criminal law – these are covered by State legal aid schemes.

What Service does VAS provide?

The scheme makes available every service which barristers ordinarily provide to clients. Barristers can become involved at any or for all stages of a legal issue. 

Examples include:

  • Advising whether there may be a legal angle to a particular problem;
  • Helping with the drafting of initial letters;
  • Drafting documents needed to bring a claim to court;
  • Representing a client in court;
  • Providing training in advocacy (how to plead a case) or other legal issues to organisations that may need to represent clients themselves;
  • Providing advice in relation to law reform and legislative drafting;
  • In certain circumstances, VAS can provide advice on initiating court proceedings and can sometimes provide a barrister to act in such cases.

While VAS reserves the right to refuse any request, VAS will ordinarily accept requests from charities, NGOs and civic society groups such as MABS and Citizens Information. VAS can provide legal services to either the organisations themselves or their clients, with the organisation acting as an intermediary.


Overview of Procedure

How A Request is Handled

In order to consider whether to accept a request for assistance, the administrator of VAS must receive adequate detail about the nature of the issue and the advice needed. This includes details about the person, their means, whether they have applied for Legal Aid and if so, what was the outcome, a synopsis of the case/query to date, whether a solicitor has been retained and so on.

This information will be kept confidential by the Voluntary Assistance Scheme and any barrister assigned to consider a case.

Case Information Required

In order to ensure that matters can be considered by VAS, the following guidelines should be adhered to where at all possible.

  1. On whose behalf you are seeking assistance of VAS from, including name and address;
  2. The factual background and whether any degree of urgency arises;
  3. Details of other attempts made to acquire legal assistance, including applications for Legal Aid and details of the reasons that the applicant is unable to acquire legal assistance;
  4. Please note that if the nature of the case is such that it comes within the remit of the Legal Aid Board applicants must apply to the Legal Aid Board for assistance before submitting an application to VAS;
  5. An undertaking to act as contact between your client and the scheme. This is an important point as if the case is accepted; there can be no direct contact between the client and VAS. The NGO is the point of contact. VAS cannot under any circumstances take on individuals’ cases. It only considers enquiries from charities, non-government organisations and civic society groups such as MABS and Citizens Information;
  6. If the enquiry is in relation to a case already fixed for hearing, please notify us of the date the case is due in court. VAS requires sufficient notice of a hearing date before assistance can be granted. VAS requires 3 weeks’ notice of any hearing date or deadline and such notice period will only be disregarded in exceptional circumstances;
  7. Copies (NOT the original documents) of all correspondence should be posted to Voluntary Assistance Scheme, Law Library Distillery Building, 145-151 Church Street, Dublin 7 or scanned and emailed to VAS@lawlibrary.ie
    Please note we only accept copies of documents and do not accept responsibility if any original documents are sent to us.

VAS will consider the application and contact the organisation as to whether the case is suitable for the scheme. If so, there may be supplementary information required, which he/she will discuss with the NGO contact.


Are you a solicitor or barrister interested in getting involved?

Our varied areas of work can only be delivered with the involvement and volunteering of Law Library colleagues, as well as generous and valuable contribution of our solicitor colleagues.

If you would like to get involved, and include VAS as part of your pro-bono activities, get in touch at VAS@lawlibrary.ie

Additional VAS Activities

In addition to a year-round service to NGOs, VAS deliver on two events that aim to build capacity. Watch out for forthcoming seminars in the 2021/2022 legal year.

Speaking for Ourselves – 2020

Charity Law & Governance – 2021