Discussion Paper on the Introduction of Pro Bono Costs Orders in Northern Ireland

Closed 8 Oct 2021

Opened 9 Jul 2021


The core function of the Department of Justice (the Department) is to help create a fair, just and safe community where we respect the law and each other. Ensuring an effective civil justice system is a key part of that function and the Department wants to ensure issues are resolved as quickly and cheaply as possible using mechanisms that are proportionate, accessible and just. In achieving that objective we are already in a very good place but the Department believes that we can do better and is initiating a Modernisation Programme with two key priorities, to:

  • make the system more accessible; and
  • make the system fairer, more proportionate and more responsive.

When awarding costs at the end of a civil case (making a Costs Order) the court generally applies the principle that the losing party pays the winner’s costs.  There are, however, a number of exceptions to that rule including where the successful party has been represented pro bono, in which circumstances, costs are treated as not having been incurred.                Other jurisdictions have taken a different approach by introducing pro bono costs orders. Essentially the same as ordinary costs orders, pro bono orders allow the fees a party would have incurred if they were paying their own costs to be recouped. Funds arising can then be allocated in a number of ways, including to pay the legal representatives who acted pro bono or to support future pro bono work.

This discussion paper is one of a number of actions brought forward in fulfilment of the Department's priorities. It can be accessed at







Why your views matter

The paper seeks views on whether Pro Bono Costs Orders should be introduced in Northern Ireland following recent reviews of the legal system which recommended steps be taken to build on the existing strong tradition of pro bono legal work in this jurisdiction. Those Reviews have informed consideration but the Department wants to hear wider views on the introduction of Pro Bono Costs Orders, particularly on how they could best be deployed. We also want to receive views on whether there are other steps which might be taken to promote pro bono legal services in Northern Ireland and by whom. The consultation period will run for 12 weeks and we would be grateful to receive your views by 1st October 2021.

What happens next

Responses and comments on the Discussion Paper will be read and analysed. A short report will then be produced to summarise our findings. This will then inform our next steps and way forward.


  • All stakeholders


  • Civil Justice