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Pro bono assistance to form charity supporting former Afghan interpreters in British Army

Sulha Alliance was first referred to Charles Russell Speechlys in August 2021, when the world witnessed the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the pro bono community was trying to assess what assistance our lawyers could provide. 

Co-founded by former army officers Ed Aitken and Peter Gordon-Finlayson alongside Dr Sara de Jong, Sulha Alliance aims to help Afghan interpreters who worked alongside British forces in Afghanistan and their families to rebuild their lives in the UK. The idea for the charity came about after Ed met up with one of his former interpreters who had managed to make it to the UK but who highlighted the desperate struggle that he and his fellow interpreters and their families were going through. Locally Engaged Civilians (LECs), particularly interpreters, continue to be a priority target for the Taliban, and Sulha Alliance saw a surge in the number of LECs attempting to flee Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.

Initially set up as a very small support community, Ed approached Charles Russell Speechlys for pro bono assistance with incorporating Sulha Alliance as a charity, enabling them to reach more people escaping from Afghanistan. Penelope Byatt, Associate in Charities, was connected with the team at Sulha Alliance to assist with this: “They were operating more as an informal organisation rather than a charity, so we helped them formalise their structure and constitution and we helped them to apply for registration with the Charity Commission, which is never straightforward.”

On the charity law support provided, Ed explained “The Firm helped us to incorporate and operate as a fully functioning charity and that has enabled us to raise funds and provide legal support for those who are trying to get their family members, or indeed themselves out of Afghanistan.”

Our lawyers have been able to continue supporting Sulha Alliance as the organisation grows, with our Employment team advising the charity as they looked to start hiring employees. Emily Chalkley, Senior Associate, and Francesca Charlton, Associate, provided comprehensive advice to the team to ensure that the nature of the prospective roles were the correct fit for the organisation, drafted a template contract for their first employees and prepared a privacy notice and grievance and disciplinary procedures for the team.

Speaking on their pro bono assistance, Emily outlined “Sulha Alliance’s mission is so impressive, and I was keen to be able to use my everyday skills and experience to support them with the strengthening of their organisation.”

As the team at Sulha Alliance began to support more Afghan interpreters, our Commercial team advised the organisation on best practice when handling sensitive data. Janine Regan, Legal Director, and Anna Sowerby, Associate, prepared a Key Measures Report to assess compliance with applicable data protection regulations and offered action points to bring the organisation in line. Most recently, our lawyers have prepared a handbook on handling data to be distributed for internal use amongst the team at Sulha Alliance.

When discussing the support they provided to the charity, Anna said “The team as we met them were all volunteering their time to this cause and we were more than happy to use our expertise to assist them where we could. Sulha Alliance are a lovely client, great to work with and the work that the team does makes such a difference.”

Commenting on the breadth of pro bono work carried out, Peter outlined “The pro bono assistance offered by the teams at Charles Russell Speechlys has allowed us to put some of the basic processes in place so that we can continue to deliver more for our beneficiaries. As a really small organisation, we are very grateful for the support we have received.”

Sulha Alliance has steadily expanded and held its first AGM this year, a year after the incorporation of the charity. Through the setting up of self-help hubs in communities housing beneficiaries of their work, they have been able to create smaller-scale support networks and organise community events across the UK to ease the resettlement of the interpreters and LECs. The charity is also supporting beneficiaries that have not yet reached the UK, having connected with over 2,000 LECs that remain in Afghanistan or have been moved into Pakistan and continue to campaign for their relocation to safety in the UK.

Find out more about the work of Sulha Alliance here. If you want to hear more about our Pro Bono practice or learn how to get involved, please contact the Pro Bono team.

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