Supreme Court > Services & support

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Pro bono legal help

Work undertaken by a legal practitioner for little or no payment is provided 'pro bono' - that is, it is performed on a voluntary basis to help the court and the community.

Many legal practitioners perform pro bono work from time to time. Some legal practitioners volunteer their time through the Duty Barrister or Duty Solicitor schemes. Larger firms may have a policy on providing pro bono assistance. The Bar Association and the Law Society also operate their own pro bono schemes.

Litigants should consult a scheme directly to determine their eligibility for pro bono assistance.

  1. Bar Association Legal Assistance Scheme
  2. Law Society Pro Bono Scheme
  3. Law Access - information on the services provided by Law Access can be obtained through its website or by phoning 1300 888 529.

Court appointed pro bono legal assistance

What is court appointed pro bono legal assistance?

The Uniform Civil Procedure Rules ( UCPR; Div 9, Pt 7) enable the court to refer litigants to a lawyer on the court's Pro Bono Panel.  The terms of the referral might ask the lawyer to provide you with legal advice, or to represent you at a hearing, or both.

Pro bono legal assistance (under Div 9, Pt 7 of the UCPR) is an option available to the court to help in the administration of justice. It is not a legal right. You should not view the Supreme Court's decision to grant you a referral for legal assistance as an indication that you have won your legal proceedings.

Can anyone apply?

Anyone can apply for legal assistance under Div 9, Pt 7  of the UCPR, but if you have obtained this type of assistance within the last three years, a judge must be satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances that justify another referral. This restriction on the provision of assistance is set out in Rule 7.36(2)(2A) of the UCPR.

How do I apply?

You must file a notice of motion seeking a referral for legal assistance under Div 9, Pt 7  of the UCPR. A filing fee is payable on the notice of motion. If you are unable to pay this fee, you may apply to have it waived, postponed or remitted. You may also file a supporting affidavit outlining how you have been unable to obtain legal advice or representation through any other means (for example, you're ineligible for Legal Aid, or the Bar Association's or Law Society's pro bono schemes).

Your application will then be given a hearing date and a judge will determine your application and the extent of the assistance you should receive (that is, whether the referral will be for legal advice, representationor both).

What happens once the Court grants me a referral for legal assistance?

If a judge decides you should receive legal assistance, his or her Honour will notify the Registrar of this determination. The Registrar will write to you to confirm that he or she will attempt to find a lawyer on the Pro Bono Panel who is willing and able to provide you with legal assistance.

The Registrar may only refer you to a particular lawyer once that lawyer has agreed to accept the referral. If a lawyer agrees to provide you with the type of legal assistance specified in the referral, the Registrar will provide you with written confirmation of the lawyer's name and contact details.

Membership of the Pro Bono Panel is entirely voluntary and there are a limited number of lawyers whom the Registrar can approach. Also, these lawyers will usually be handling other cases and have other clients competing for their time. Similarly, a lawyer may not feel that they are familiar enough with the area of law relevant to your case and decline the request for assistance on that basis. Therefore, it is not possible for the Registrar to find you a lawyer immediately; this process can take several weeks. 

What happens if the registrar cannot find a lawyer willing or able to assist me?

If the registrar is unable to find you a lawyer within 28 days of the date of the judge's referrral for legal assistance, the Registrar can order that your referral is terminated. Rule 7.36 of the UCPR  permits the registrar to do this. If this happens, and you still need pro bono assistance, you would have to file a notice of motion seeking a new order for a referral for legal assistance. A judge can only make another order for legal assistance if he or she feels exceptional circumstances justify this second referral. You would need to prepare an affidavit explaining why you feel another referral is justified.

What happens if my pro bono lawyer withdraws from my case?

If your lawyer stops providing legal assistance to you, unless the court says otherwise, your referral for legal assistance is terminated on the date your lawyer withdrew from your case. If this happens, and you still need pro bono assistance, you would have to file a notice of motion seeking a new order for a referral for legal assistance. A judge can only make another order for legal assistance if he or she feels exceptional circumstances justify this second referral. You would need to prepare an affidavit explaining why you feel another referral is justified.

Supreme Court pro bono panel - invitation to practitioners

The Court welcomes legal practitioners who are willing to have their names included in the Pro Bono Panel. Practitioners are encouraged to read the provisions of Div 9, Pt 7  from which it will be noted that a referral of a litigant to a legal practitioner may only occur if the practitioner has agreed to accept the referral ( Div 9, Pt 7 Rule 7.36). It will also be noted that the practitioner may be entitled to recover an amount for costs if a costs order is made in the legally assisted litigant's favour ( Div 9, Pt 7 Rule 7.41). A practitioner is also entitled to seek disbursements from a referred litigant ( Div 9, Pt 7 Rule 7.42).

Practitioners who are willing to have their names included in the Pro Bono Panel can do so by filling out this application form and submitting it to:

By Mail:

The Principal Registrar
Supreme Court of New South Wales
GPO Box 3
Sydney 2001

By Email​