The CLOCK in Kent Community Legal Companion Scheme - Canterbury Law Courts
The number of litigants in person (LiPs) has risen exponentially over the last decade. This has coincided with the introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules and legislation; the Access to Justice Act 1999, which was introduced to promote just that “access to justice”
The reality however is that through various government initiatives since the first New Labour administration of 1997 which started dismantling aspects of the Welfare State (set up by the post-war reforming Labour government), which has included the introduction of competitive price tendering for Legal Aid contracts and the systematic withdrawal of Legal Aid for areas of civil justice including personal injury, clinical negligence and most recently private family law, a whole raft of the UK citizens have been disenfranchised and fall within what is commonly termed the ‘justice gap’. This has given rise to an increased number of LiPs who have been unable to afford legal advice
The concern within the judiciary is evident and initiatives are beginning to be explored to remedy what is undoubtedly a growing problem for the civil justice system. Due to closure of many charitable advice services and law centres during the past six years or so of austerity, Universities have for instance started to fill the space once occupied by legal advice services which traditionally provided advice and assistance to those most in need at no cost to the end-user.
Being a Community Legal Companion
Our Law students have the unique opportunity in Canterbury to be involved in the administration of justice through volunteering as Community Legal Companions at the local Law courts in Canterbury.
The reduction of Legal Aid availability has left many UK citizens either no longer eligible for financial support or unable to afford legal representation for court proceedings. Many do not have the awareness to access the few legal services still available, which may provide pro bono advice and assistance.
Our Community Legal Companions provide important community assistance to an increasing number of people who attend court unrepresented. By working with partner organisations and local law firms, our Law students help court service users with a whole range of legal matters from benefit-related issues, family breakdown and housing evictions.
Through the training they receive, our Law students gain invaluable transferrable employability skills and fully understand their Companionship role and responsibilities before entering court. Once trained, Companions provide support to court service users, including filing applications, sorting through papers and note taking in formal proceedings. Companions also help individuals consider the wider range of legal pathways available through other alternative dispute resolution process options, including mediation.
The Community Legal Outreach Collaboration, Keele (CLOCK), represents an academic, public sector, professional and third sector partnership, working in time to critically respond to the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing, Punishment and Offenders Act, 2012, on the provision of publicly funded legal services and examine new and innovative ways to respond to community legal services and access to justice needs.
Read more about the CLOCK project at Keele is here.