Standing tall at 6’2, a head full of graying hair and a kindly face, Fred Rooney doesn’t look like the traditional image of a man who has seen the cruelties of the world up close. His extensive social work reveals otherwise. He is the innovator and social justice enthusiast behind the concept of affordable legal services for all, introducing legal incubators in America for the very first time in 2007.
Fast-forward eight years, Fred is contextualizing a model of legal incubators in Islamabad after he has successfully seen legal incubators spread all over America and has set up similar incubators in Dominican Republic.
The incubator in Islamabad is a pilot project, the first of its kind in Pakistan. The goal is to offer accessible legal services to those who don’t have economic resources to get legal representation, be it marginalized groups, emigrants or members of the economically disadvantaged social groups.
Special emphasis will be towards extending the incubator’s support for women dealing with legal woes.
With a myriad of cases revolving around abuse, neglect, rape and other social injustice misdirected towards the lesser sex, the incubator will serve to increase Pakistani women’s access to legal support.
The incubator is being powered by Insaf Network Pakistan, a network of Civil Society Organizations and will entertain 8 dynamic lawyers, striving towards unmatched high quality legal services whilst raising awareness among the general public.
While boasting itself as a democracy, many Pakistanis continue to be unaware of their rights.
The culture of not seeking legal support to resolve problems is further perpetuated by this sheer ignorance.
Fred often speaks about having to address this very gap, where masses have provided with public funded resources to seek counsel instead of going to court without representation. Speaking on behalf of lawyers, Rooney also believes in the practical application of law, with many fresh graduates unaware of how to apply their bookish knowledge into actual use.
But even more so, he feels strongly about economically viable, community based law practices with a strong social justice mission.
The eight lawyers aboard this incubator will be equipped with necessary experience and skills to help young Pakistani lawyers interested in starting their own firms while helping over a thousand litigants during the first 18-month residency cycle.
Fred Rooney is just like an angel for Pakistan
With Pakistan, the challenges are tremendous. The local bodies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan have established jirgah systems where many of the cases reported do not have their day in court.
This ignorance doesn’t seep into backward areas alone, according to a report by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 2015, 747 FIRs were filed in sexual violence cases during the year with no complaint being filed in 44 cases. 88 of the said victims were filmed while being sexually abused and those films were used by the perpetrators to further harass the victim. These statistics encapsulate urban and rural, alike.
Being aware of the situation in Pakistan, one can safely assume the unreported cases to be many times more of the given number.
And this why Fred Rooney’s incubator might just be a step toward the right direction.
“I learned fairly soon after I got out of law school I couldn’t change the world, but I could help people change their lives. That became the mantra for my life.”
– Fred Rooney
Cover Image via: Touro
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