The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
July 9, 2014

Plans for Mandatory Pro Bono Service in Saudi Arabia

As recently reported in the Saudi Gazette, official sources from the Justice Ministry of Saudi Arabia have disclosed plans to impose mandatory pro bono requirements on the Kingdom’s lawyers. Under the Ministry’s new special statute, lawyers will be required to provide pro bono representation to at least nine poor persons per year.

Mandatory pro bono has been greatly debated in the U.S. PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent has noted that while bold steps must be taken to address the access to justice gap, philosophical and pragmatic reasons weigh against imposing mandatory pro bono in the U.S. at this time. PBI has endorsed a number of steps the legal profession can take, including “voluntary plus” pro bono, in which the U.S. system expects every lawyer to undertake pro bono unless they opt out, and acts accordingly. This is a fundamental shift in culture and perspective for the U.S., but is a change that falls short of mandating pro bono service.

The PBEye is acutely aware that different countries, cultures, and legal systems should experiment with different approaches to addressing gaps in access to justice unique to their situation; this new mandatory pro bono rule in Saudi Arabia is a development we will follow with interest. Under the change, service required will include provision of legal advice, defending clients in court, and following up on cases. Ministry sources noted that plans for the new program arose after visits to several EU countries and an assessment of their legal aid systems for the poor. The launch of Saudi Arabia’s program is intended to address the problem of low-income citizens in the Kingdom who are unable to pay the high costs of lawyers.