Students providing vital legal assistance to those in need
19 December 2019
Law students and academics have been recognised for their work fighting injustices against the most vulnerable in society.
Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics received an award for ‘Best Contribution by a Pro Bono Clinic’ at the LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards, which were presented by President of the Supreme Court Lady Hale.
Up to 200 students a year participate in extra-curricular activities such as legal skills programmes, and for the School’s pro bono clinic, which provides legal help and investigations for those who can’t afford the cost of legal fees.
Professor Julie Price, Head of Pro Bono said: “This award recognises the huge efforts of students, past and present, as well as fellow academics and people working in the legal profession and beyond, who have helped us to build up an impressive track record. We are immensely grateful to everyone who has supported us – without those partnerships and wider support, our work would not be possible.
“Students involved in these schemes gain invaluable experience, which in turn has a huge impact on people’s lives. Since we started 15 years ago, we estimate students have contributed about 240,000 hours and supporting practitioners and other experts have given up to 10,000 hours in free legal and other expert work.
“Although it is not, and should not be, a substitute for a properly-funded legal aid system, such work is vital.”
Extensive pro bono portfolio
Starting in 2005 with a blank sheet, the School has fostered the creation of an extensive pro bono portfolio, now comprising five in-house and 13 partnership schemes. They cover national and local community needs in both social justice and commercial advice arenas, as well as one global scheme.
Its most high-profile initiative is the Innocence Project, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice and is the only UK university innocence project to have had a case overturned after a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of Appeal.
In 2014, they successfully helped to overturn the murder conviction of Dwaine George, who had served 12 years in prison. Last year, they won their second case when the conviction of Gareth Jones, who served three-and-a-half years in prison for serious sexual assault, was quashed.
Sarah Magill, a former Innocence Project team leader who worked on the Dwaine George case, is now a criminal barrister. She said: “The tangible impact of law in practice while studying kept my passion for criminal law alive and augmented skills that have been drawn upon regularly, during what has proven to be an enjoyable and rewarding career at the Criminal Bar thus far.”
One of the School’s successful partnership schemes is the NHS Continuing Healthcare scheme, which works with Hugh James solicitors to help people suffering from dementia, who are wrongly paying care home costs. More than £240,000 has so far been recovered for them and their families.
Legal toolkits created in partnership with Mencap Cymru provide advice to adults with learning disabilities on a range of issues such as housing, while the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) pro bono scheme offers assistance to amateur rugby clubs looking to become companies as a means of limiting potential legal liability for individuals running the clubs.
Other partnership schemes which students have participated in include:
Global Justice Scheme: With Deighton Pierce Glynn, Amnesty International and RAID (Rights and Accountability in Development).
Environmental Law Foundation (ELF): Giving advice on environmental issues.
Hafal: Students acting as “appropriate adults”, assisting vulnerable people in police station interviews, alongside duty solicitors.
Asylum Justice: Providing legal research assistance to asylum seekers.
Bail Observation Project: Observing asylum bail hearings in Newport Tribunal and producing reports for this national charity.
Speakeasy Employment Advice Clinic: Shadowing pro bono employment law practitioners.
Community Land Advisory Service/Blake Morgan partnership: Helping community groups, typically seeking assistance on draft licences for land use.
Bridgend Children’s Contact Centre: Assisting in family breakdown situations involving child contact with non-resident parents.
Citizens Advice Torfaen: Acting as gateway advisors for this national charity.
Streetlaw in the Employment Tribunal: A partnership with other universities delivering public legal education to litigants in person.
Personal Support Unit: Assisting litigants at the Civil Justice Centre.
Victim Support: Answering calls on the victim helpline.
Wales Arts International; (WAI)/ Latham and Watkins partnership: A new project giving students the opportunity to consider issues facing artists wishing to come to the UK post-Brexit.
The Duncan Lewis law clinic: Shadowing solicitors who gave advice on immigration, family and housing matters.