Law students help ease pressures at local court
12 May 2016
In recent years, the UK Government has significantly cut civil legal aid in areas such as housing, family and welfare benefits, aiming to ease the strain on the deficit.
The cuts have been opposed by many, including lawyers, who have raised concerns that they could leave the most vulnerable unrepresented in court and undermine the civil justice system.
Over 30 students studying Law at Canterbury Christ Church University will, from 16 May, work with Canterbury Combined Court to assist unrepresented court users find useful information, help them fill out court forms and take notes in their hearing.
The project, Access to Justice CLOCK in Kent, is a social justice outreach initiative following on from the success of the pilot introduced by Keele University’s Law School in 2013.
Second and third year Law students will take on the role of Community Legal Companions, based on the ‘McKenzie Friend’ principle, by supporting litigants in person who are entitled to have assistance in court.
Students will be working with partner organisations and local legal firms to assist court users on matters such as benefit related issues, divorce and housing evictions. They are trained over a six week period to ensure they understand their role and responsibilities before entering court.
From left to right: Chloe McIntosh, second year Law and Criminology student, and Joe Milner, second year Law student, ready to start their new roles as Community Legal Companions
Joe Milner, a second year Law student at the University, has just completed the Community Legal Companion training and is due to work at Canterbury Combined Court next week. Joe said: “The CLOCK scheme has never been as important in legal history as it is today, with the continuous cuts in legal aid. No litigant in person should be left in the minefield of the UK justice system without a helping hand. Law students spend years to only scratch the surface of the legal system in the UK. Why then should a litigant in person be expected to understand it within a day?
”The scheme does not only help litigants in person in need, but enables Law students at Christ Church to use their knowledge for the benefit of their local society.”
District Judge William Jackson and member of the Advisory Board for Canterbury Christ Church University’s Mediation Clinic, said: “On behalf of the judiciary and court office at Canterbury, I welcome the initiative shown by the University’s School of Law in establishing its CLOCK project. In these days of declining eligibility for legal aid it is increasingly important that those who wish to bring claims or are facing legal proceedings should have the opportunity for assistance and guidance. To have help in drafting documents, preparing for a hearing and being supported by someone at such a hearing will prove invaluable.
“The enthusiasm and commitment shown by the students already encourages me to believe that the project will benefit considerably those in Canterbury and beyond who use our local courts.”
Ben Waters, Programme Director for LL.B Law at Canterbury Christ Church University and as CLOCK Director who implemented the scheme in Canterbury, said: “Whilst the project provides vital support for members of the local community, it also enables University students to acquire valuable employability skills and applied experience, before entering the workplace.”
“As students have not yet qualified as lawyers or solicitors they cannot give legal advice or represent clients, but they are able to bridge the justice gap by offering assistance and information to those who need it most.”
Community Legal Companions will be introduced at Canterbury Combined Court on 16 May, with at least two companions present each day. Each academic year, second and third year students will be encouraged to begin their training to ensure more litigants in person are represented in the local community.