Kent and Sussex universities show pro bono commitment with new law clinics
Education of practical skills will help the next generation lawyers in a â€˜highly competitive market'
The University of Kent is to open a new £5m law clinic that will continue to develop student's legal skills and offer free legal advice to those in the local community who otherwise could not afford it.
Under the direction of its director, Professor John Fitzpatrick, law students have helped clients gain millions of pounds in compensation in employment claims and brought landmark cases in asylum law.
For Kent's law students, the supervised work enables them to gain skills in legal practice, including file management, interviewing, taking witness statements negotiating, and advocacy, as well as increasing their understanding of the law.
Caseworkers not only research the law and analyse its application to the facts, but draft correspondence and court pleadings, and, where able, appear as advocates.
Students pick their cases from a variety of different sectors, including employment, access to land, housing, family, consumer contract, welfare benefits, and immigration and asylum law.
Now, the new Wigoder Law Building, named after telecommunications entrepreneur and Kent law graduate Charles Wigoder, is sited between Eliot and Rutherford colleges and will be the new home for the Kent Law Clinic and the university's mooting programme.
Built in the style of a court room, the new 'moot chamber' will enable students to practice their advocacy skills in a professional setting, complementing the realism already provided by the involvement of the local judiciary in mooting at Kent.
The clinic has been involved in several high-profile local cases. In September 2016, the clinic won £2,500 compensation for tenants in a case at Canterbury Combined Court Centre. Landlord Judith Wilson had sued the tenants claiming £4,000 for allegedly causing damage in their flat.
However, following the clinic's representation of the tenants, the court dismissed the claim. Furthermore, the judge accepted the tenant's counterclaim that their landlords had broken the terms of the tenancy by not repairing a leak for over eight weeks and by disturbing the tenants' quiet enjoyment of the premises.
In a separate recent claim, a group of 13 residential care workers approached the clinic because they felt they were not receiving the full wages to which they were entitled. Tony Pullen, an employment law specialist at the clinic, agreed on the basis that although they were required to sleep over in the relevant premises they were not paid for those hours, for which they should at least have received the national minimum wage.
Acting on Pullen's advice, the staff joined the GMB union and were subsequently joined by an additional group of 28 care workers. The employer agreed with the arguments put to them by the Law Clinic and the GMB, and agreed to reimburse the employees. The total payable for the 41 staff is estimated to total £920,000 (including back pay). Some £230,000 is payable to Law Clinic clients.
Furthermore, in the first case of its kind, the clinic secured UK asylum for an Afghan citizen for reasons of religion, despite him being an atheist. The case was submitted to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the basis that if the client was returned to Afghanistan he would face persecution for his lack of religious belief.
The deputy president of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond, will open the new clinic on 6 October 2016 and deliver a keynote speech, entitled 'Human Rights and Social Justice'.
Meanwhile, on 5 October, the University of Sussex will launch a host of new law clinics run by third-year students offering legal advice to its local community.
The clinics will cover housing and welfare, family, and employment laws, as well as assisting the Citizens Advice Project and CLOCK project, which allows students to become legal companions and assist litigants in person in court.
District Judge David Pollard, who oversees the project, said: 'There has been an enormous increase in the number of litigant in persons throughout the courts in England and Wales and the Brighton Civil and Family Courts are no exception. Many of these people are the most vulnerable members of our society.
'The CLOCK scheme is a collaborative partnership of the voluntary, academic, legal profession, and court sector to assist the local community access the justice system by offering support and help which would otherwise not be available. The benefits of operating a CLOCK scheme are beyond doubt great in assisting people who would otherwise have to face coming to court alone and without advice.
'Delivering this service also educates and gave practical skills to the next generation of law students; which will assist them in obtaining employment in the highly competitive legal market.'
Amir Paz-Fuchs, director of Sussex Clinical Legal Education, said: 'This is a very exciting moment for Sussex Law School '“ staff, students, and the community in which we are immersed. Clinical legal education provides a unique perspective on the role of law and society, and enriches the student experience immensely.
'It also allows us to reach into the community and to assist those in need through the help of enthusiastic students, dedicated staff and exceptional lawyers who are our crucial partners in this project. We are confident that, as ambitious as this launch is for Sussex Clinical Legal Education, it is an important project which will allow the University to connect with the local community.'
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal