UCL Faculty of Laws


UCL Public International Law Pro Bono Project

This project brings together LLM and PhD students with a background in international law and provides them with opportunities to get first hand practical experience in public international law

PIL Pro Bono

The UCL Public International Law Pro Bono Project brings together highly motivated LLM and PhD students with a background in relevant subject areas, and provides them with opportunities to engage in cutting edge legal research, analysis and advice to assist leading international organisations in addressing some of the world’s most pressing and difficult challenges. The Project was established with two main objectives in mind. First, we aim to provide our LLM and PhD students with the opportunity to work both individually and collaboratively on issues of major practical and international importance. This helps our international law students to develop the skills necessary for them to thrive in their future careers, whether this takes them into the world of legal practice, academic research, or policy making. Second, by tapping into the expertise, skills and enthusiasm of our student body, the PILPBP is a means through which UCL can make an important and enduring contribution to respect for human rights around the world.

LLM students on the Project work in close collaboration with the PhD Co-ordinators and the Directors of the Project. This collaboration across LLM and PhD students, under the direction of UCL Laws academic staff, is an integral part of achieving the twin objectives of the PILPBP.

In 2023-24, the Project will be integrated into the LLM programme, as those selected for the Project will have the opportunity to write their LLM Research Essay (which is a required part of the UCL LLM programme) on a topic which builds on their pro bono research work. Students will work collaboratively on the Project, and then write individual Research Essays which can draw on that collaborative work, but which must also be substantially the student’s own work. Information on the application process is set out below, and further guidance on the way the Project will work this year will be provided in due course to those selected.

The UCL Public International Law Pro Bono Project has been honoured with a Provost’s Education Award. The highly regarded award recognises and rewards UCL activities which make outstanding contributions to the learning experience and success of their students.

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PIL Pro Bono Partners

The PIL Pro Bono Project partners with different organisations each year – the following is a sample of partnerships from previous years.

The Project has a co-operation agreement with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), by way of which students may be asked to provide the Court with high quality research on legal questions raised in cases as they are being litigated. The Project also participates in the Inter-American human rights system by contributing amicus briefs in respect of requests to the Court for an Advisory Opinion. The PILPBP has submitted several amicus briefs to the Court on various human rights issues, and has participated in the oral phase of proceedings in each case, giving a number of LLM students the opportunity to appear before the Court.   

The Project also regularly carries out research for Redress and has contributed to a number of important projects, including Redress’ submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Inquiry into the Human Rights Act (‘20 years of the Human Rights Act inquiry’), its work on the joint civil society shadow report on the UK submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, and a strategic litigation Casebook to be used in training human rights lawyers the world over.  

The PILPBP has worked on a legal / policy paper for Geneva Call in respect of non-international armed conflicts (‘NIACs’) – work which will help shape Geneva Call’s engagement with non-state actors in NIACS with a view to encouraging compliance with international humanitarian law. The PIL Pro Bono Project has also prepared an IHL in Action case study for the ICRC; has prepared a memo for the Executive of the World Refugee Council (a non-governmental organisation established by leading global policy makers, including a Nobel Peace Prize winner), setting out innovative ways of unlocking the frozen assets of refugee-creating regimes, with a view to responding to the global refugee crisis; and has assisted the Syrian Legal Development Programme with its important work, including through a ‘scoping’ exercise analysing the extent to which various States have a legal and political environment which is receptive to refugee concerns.

The organisations which the Project collaborates with may change over time – but the Project will always be engaging in high level research with human rights and humanitarian impact!  

Direction of the Project

The Project is co-directed by Professors Kimberley Trapp and Alex Mills. The PhD Project Co-ordinators for 2023-24 will be confirmed in due course

Student Roles

UCL LLM students go through a very competitive application process in order to participate in the PIL Pro Bono Project. While there are no formal ‘pre-requisites’ for participation as such, having studied Public International Law and / or Human Rights Law at undergraduate level can offer a competitive advantage. As participation in the PILPBP is intended to support experiential learning, successful applicants are invariably studying several modules on the Public International Law and / or Human Rights Law specialisms at UCL Laws.

Successful applicants are assigned to one of the ‘streams’ of work we are currently undertaking (for instance the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Redress or and any opportunities with other organisations which may arise during the course of the year). For each research stream, team members work in close collaboration with each other, as well as with the Co-ordinators and Directors, to produce research reports, memos and briefs tailored to the specific needs of the organisation / Court with which we are collaborating.

Students are requested to submit their written applications by e-mail to the PIL Pro Bono Project by Friday 13 October 2023. 

A written application should consist of a CV (including grades for relevant international law and human rights courses at undergraduate level), and a short (max. 400 word) statement of interest, explaining the contribution you think you can make to the work of the Project. This statement should include information about the Public International Law and / or Human Rights Law modules that you are studying during your LLM at UCL Laws. The word limit is a strict and absolute maximum.

Subject to the number of applicants (which has in the past been very high) and the length of the eventual short-list, interviews may also be held for the purposes of finalising the 2023-24 PIL Pro Bono Project research teams.