Volunteering: Experiences of Past Volunteers
Jennifer Robinson: Former Executive Committee member
For those with an abiding interest in human rights and public interest law, I cannot think of a better way of spending your time at Oxford than volunteering for OPBP. During my time at Oxford I had the opportunity to write submissions in Guantanamo Bay cases, to prepare a major report on corporate human rights abuse for the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative on Human Rights and Business, to provide advice on democratic transition, human rights and transitional justice in Burma, and to provide training to NGOs on use of the third-party participation procedure in investor-state disputes. As Chairperson of OPBP, I developed excellent contacts within the Faculty, as well as with law firms, barristers and other project partners such as Advocates for International Development (A4ID). The work I became involved in through OPBP was exciting and challenging and led to me being recognised by the UK Attorney-General as a National Pro Bono Hero in 2007.
Since leaving Oxford I have been practicing as a solicitor in international and media litigation at Finers Stephens Innocent LLP, London. My practice is largely media defence, freedom of information and free speech litigation, acting for clients such as the New York Times, CNN, Associated Press and Bloomberg. But it also involves international human rights work: I have provided advice on humanitarian issues in post-conflict Iraq and travelled the world interviewing former political prisoners from Iran for the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation in Washington about the 1988 prison massacre to provide evidence for a legal opinion on the individual accountability of Iran's leadership (present and former). More recently, I have been acting for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, defending Julian Assange against extradition to Sweden and advising WikiLeaks on legal issues associated with the publication of leaked documents.
I also maintain a significant pro bono practice, engaging in strategic free speech litigation before the UK Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights and around the world on behalf free speech organisations. Recent interventions have included opposing anonymity and reporting restrictions in the UK, opposing any pre-publication privacy or libel restrictions, asserting greater source protection in Europe and challenging obscenity convictions in Indonesia. My law firm is now hosting the Human Dignity Trust through which we plan to undertake international strategic litigation to ensure equality and privacy for same sex couples.
There is no doubt that the experiences I gained from OPBP helped to lay the groundwork for my current career path and continues to inform my work today – and will continue to do so in the future.
Miles Jackson: Former Executive Committee member and Volunteer
I had the chance to work on a number of projects with OPBP, ranging from historical research on the writ of habeas corpus to a submission to the Chilcot Inquiry on the legality of the Iraq War. In each case, we were able to draw on the knowledge of excellent volunteers and build strong relationships with project partners. OPBP projects are a great way to get involved with the practice of pro bono law and to contribute to important and often neglected legal issues.
Miles is currently a DPhil candidate in Law at the University of Oxford.
Jason Pobjoy: Former Executive Committee member and Volunteer
The Oxford Pro Bono Publico provided a great platform to engage in public interest law in a practical way, to make a positive contribution to the broader society, and to meet and work with a smart and engaged cohort of likeminded students. It is a brilliant program, and real asset to the Oxford Law Faculty.
Jason is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Law at the University of Cambridge and a Hauser Visiting Doctoral Researcher at New York University.
Dr Grégoire Webber: Former OPBP Volunteer
As a DPhil student, I participated in an OPBP project in collaboration with the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights. Our report provided a comparative survey of the legal redress possibilities for victims of corporate human rights abuses and has been relied upon in the work of NGOs and researchers. OPBP provided me and us all with an opportunity to use the legal thinking Oxford so ably instilled in us for a cause greater than our immediate pursuits.
Dr Grégoire Webber is now a Lecturer in Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Ben Saul: Former Executive Committee member and volunteer
Oxford Pro Bono Publico provides an outstanding opportunity to be involved in leading public interest cases around the world. I was involved in innovative and challenging matters such as the legality of Israel's security wall in Palestine; the lawfulness of war crimes charges at Guantanamo Bay; the excessive pricing of HIV/AIDS drugs in South Africa; mass human rights violations in a prison massacre in Peru; election violence in Bangladesh; a review of the scope of the UK Human Rights Act; and a challenge to the expansion of immigration detention in the UK.
Being involved in these cases helped me to develop strong skills in researching and preparing cases involving disputed and topical questions in very diverse areas of law. It introduced me to leading lawyers and legal organizations, and I benefited greatly from working with Oxford staff and student volunteers on projects. It helped to familiarize me with the functions and procedures of key domestic and international courts and tribunals, along with strategies for mounting successful challenges. It gives you a chance to make a real difference on some of the most important legal issues of the day. It also allows you to put your theoretical knowledge of law into practice for a social purpose - to assist those who are vulnerable, underprivileged, or simply forgotten about in different communities around the world.
Rayhan Rashid: Former Executive Committee member and Volunteer
Between 2003 and 2004, I had the opportunity to get involved in the activities of the group. I have always considered it a great privilege to be able to work with such a highly energetic team of co-organisers in the Executive Committee. Working on different projects with groups of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers had its own rewards. The team environment was a constant source of encouragement for all of us. Exposure to public interest issues from around the globe and their development into concrete legal submissions was priceless as a learning experience. I choose to remember the group as a team of activist-researchers who were committed to quality while at the same time aspired for independence and autonomy.
Amir Paz-Fuchs: Former Executive Committee member and volunteer
Human rights lawyers and activists in Israel are in an awkward position. The nature of the conflict, both within Israel proper and in the Palestinian occupied territories, has nurtured a generation of people who are fluent in human rights discourse insofar as it relates to matters of military conflict, racial and ethnic discrimination, and structural disadvantage. In light of this overabundance, it is easy to see how an Israeli or Palestinian human rights lawyer may have little awareness to abuses far and wide in Western and non-Western countries, in the Northern as well as the Southern hemisphere, instigated by governments as well as by multi-national corporations.
For this reason, my experience in OXPIL (OPBP's forerunner) has been no less than eye-opening. The range of issues that I was exposed to broadened my perspective as well as my legal knowledge. In addition, meeting with like-minded colleagues from around the globe, each with his or her unique personal experience, allowed me to grasp the extent of our ‘community of the devoted'. My involvement with OXPIL included projects such as a mandatory death penalty case in Latin America, a report on reservations from the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (for Amnesty) and a comparative analysis of the treatment of homosexuals in the military (for Yale University). It is therefore no less than symbolic that the sensations noted above brought me full circle, as my final project with OXPIL involved an analysis of the legal implications of the separation wall in Israel-Palestine. I sincerely consider my work with OXPIL an integral part of my legal education in Oxford, and an important one at that. And lastly, and probably most importantly, it is beyond words to explain how gratifying it is to know that after all, we can make a difference.