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Commonwealth seeking law firms to give pro bono help to developing states grappling with COVID-19

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 @ 4:33 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

The Commonwealth is asking law firms in Canada and other member countries to give the organization’s developing member countries free expert legal assistance to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on business and people’s livelihoods.

The COVID-19 Business Law Response Initiative was announced by Commonwealth Secretary-general Patricia Scotland April 29.

According to a press release, the initiative will offer guidance and knowledge, to governments of developing countries in particular, as they rapidly create and adapt legislation to contend with the huge disruption caused by the pandemic.

Among the different areas covered by the initiative are job-retention schemes, corporate financing, data protection and business-rate breaks.

“This scheme aims to help member countries steer through measures that will protect businesses and economies which are facing up to the enormous financial consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the Commonwealth’s press release says.

In collaboration with the international law firms Slaughter & May, which is headquartered in London, and Milbank LLP which is headquartered in New York City, a team of specialists now exists to help countries review their laws and regulations.

“Lawyers involved in the initiative will work pro bono as they carry out in-depth research and recommend proposed legislative changes where countries have expressed a need,” says the press statement. “They will liaise with experts in-country to ensure advice is tailored to domestic legal frameworks.”

The Commonwealth said it has sent an invitation outlining the benefits of the new pro bono initiative to Attorney General David Lametti, and to all the law ministers and attorneys-general of the other Commonwealth member countries.

Scotland warned in the statement that an “economic tsunami” could follow the health and social costs of the pandemic. “It is at these times of stress, when our countries are threatened by COVID-19, climate change such as several Category 5 storms in the Pacific, and the prospects of a financial meltdown, that we become more aware of the need to join hands and galvanize all possible efforts.

“This includes pooling knowledge and resources across our public and private sectors to alleviate some of the negative impacts COVID-19 has on businesses and the economy.”

Scotland said the initiative builds on the advantages offered by the close ties Commonwealth member countries share through their legal systems.

“This initiative will assist our members to implement measures, with tailored solutions contextualized to the needs of each country,” she said. “By working together in this way, our Commonwealth connections can help to save livelihoods and rebuild economies at a time when many of our members’ resources are stretched to breaking point.”

In order to better benefit all member countries, promising practices from the initiative will be shared through the Commonwealth’s Innovation Hub.