SOAS University of London

Network of SOAS law students offers pro bono legal and policy research

3 April 2013

Postgraduate students from SOAS, University of London have set up an advocacy network to offer pro bono legal and policy research for groups such as civil society agencies, law firms and development organisations.

The aim of Banyan: SOAS Advocates is to connect organisations in need of such support with proactive postgraduates looking to apply their skills, research, knowledge and free time in a practical setting.

Banyan advocates


Through Banyan, SOAS students offer pro bono legal and policy research and writing to interested third parties. Projects must have clear development, human rights or social justice advocacy goals and a commitment to practical change. Banyan currently has a network of more than fifty postgraduate students.

In the last twelve months, Banyan has fielded teams for a range of international projects. Examples include:

  • A Banyan team of students worked with Revenue Watch Institute (RWI) to support the implementation of the government of Guinea’s new mining code. The students assisted the government in ongoing negotiations and drafted research reports on different mining companies;
  • Three Banyan students joined the MSI Project, an NGO monitoring the human rights impacts of multi-stakeholder initiatives. They wrote reports analysing some of these initiatives and helped generate recommendations to improve their adherence to human rights standards;
  • The Aegis Trust came to Banyan via Dr Chandra Sriram from the SOAS School of Law. Four postgraduate students have researched and drafted a report regarding Sudan and the ICC;
  • Banyan supported a group of eminent legal historians in drafting briefs to the US Supreme Court in the high profile case of Kiobel, which concerns alleged corporate human rights abuses. Their research was cited in oral argument before the Court.

Professor Tyler Giannini of Harvard Law School worked with Banyan on Kiobel. Professor Giannini said: “The work of the students and researchers from SOAS has been invaluable to the litigation effort and historical research on corporate liability. In this case, which is being watched around the world with great interest, it has been excellent to see collaborative research efforts that span the continents.”

Banyan was founded in April 2012 by Jessica Whelligan and Luke Smitham, both SOAS MA Law Students, together with SOAS Research Associate Deval Desai. Banyan recently welcomed two new committee members, SOAS postgraduates Hayley Ichilcik (LLM) and Matthew Burnett-Stuart (MA Law).