Alumni Wins Scholarship to Train as Barrister

Law alumni, Curtis Dunkley has been awarded a scholarship to train as a Barrister and has written an account about the application. 

Chris Dunkley in the mock courtroom at Staffordshire University

For the process of applying for the scholarship I had to submit a personal statement and fill out a general scholarship application form. The scholarship that I applied for and was awarded was one for academic excellence.

For me, the demonstration of academic excellence was my time at Staffordshire University. I didn’t do the best at college and as such I did the law degree with foundation year. Despite my lack of A2 levels at college, I demonstrated the academic excellence by attaining a first class law degree, with my highest result being 88% in the Legal Advice Clinic module.

I worked incredibly hard to attain this degree and it is something I’m very proud of, I believe I’ve demonstrated a turnaround of academic record and my overall attitude in regards to education. I kept on top of my work at Staffs and really put the effort in to get my desired degree.

My advice to any prospective students looking to sit the BTC or any postgraduate study where they may have to apply for scholarships would be to work hard at an undergraduate level. Put the extra effort in, go above and beyond, do as much pro bono as possible! I would definitely recommend the Legal Advice Clinic module for students, this gives you a great insight into life in practice and also gives them the opportunity to put in extra shifts and go above and beyond.

I appreciate that as a first year student at undergraduate level you don’t particularly want to be doing extra curricular activities or work experience but it is essential. These will broaden your horizons, make connections within the legal community and put you in better standing when they apply for scholarships, a pupillage or a place on a postgraduate course.

Law is extremely competitive and I would advise all students to do everything they can to make themselves stand out from the rest of people who are applying. You need to put the effort in from day one, make connections, go to the careers fair, speak to
lecturers and get themselves on LinkedIn!

I have no doubt that many more staffs students are capable of attaining scholarships and would definitely recommend pursuing a career at the bar if they enjoy the advocacy side of law.


How your car sheds microplastics into the ocean thousands of miles away

The impact of car travel on the environment is well known. Exhaust emissions pollute the atmosphere with gases that raise global temperatures and make the air less safe to breathe. Sadly, the problems don’t end there. Scientists have been studying another problem – and one that connects your daily commute to the most remote stretches of the world’s oceans.

Find out more from Professor Claire Gwinnett on The Conversation here

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

Human trafficking is the trapping of people using violence, deception, or coercion and exploiting them for personal or financial gain. The National Crime Agency have said that it’s difficult to know exactly how many victims there are of human trafficking and modern slavery in the U.K. In 2019, of 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery that were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), officials believed that 8,429 were victims.

This year, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons focuses on the first responders who work to identify, support, counsel and seek justice for the victims of trafficking.

Lecturer for the Institute of Policing, Phil Parkinson, took time to reflect on his work supporting the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery.

“Prior to entering academia, I had a very interesting career as a police officer. I found that I had a real affinity for dealing with victims of various crimes, along with a passion for investigative interviewing.

Amongst the highlights of my time as a police officer were the years I spent working in a specialist unit dealing with offences against and/or involving children, and intra-familial offences; in particular sexual offences. The experience I gained in that unit instilled in me a recognition of the need for the authorities to identify and protect the most vulnerable in society, together with an appreciation of just how powerless some people can truly be.

After leaving the police, I spent six years working with Lincolnshire Police as a specialist crime trainer, a large part of my role being to train police officers and other staff in interview techniques and how to use those techniques to obtain quality information from witnesses, victims and suspects.

I left the above role in order to form a training company (Zakon Training) together with a business partner. Amongst the contracts that we secured were the delivery of various training events for staff employed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).

The GLAA deal with offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and offences include keeping someone in a condition of slavery or servitude and also human trafficking. These are of course very serious offences that carry penalties up to life imprisonment on conviction.

Whilst I was involved in the design and delivery of all the training for the GLAA, such training covering various specialist areas, I was most pleased and proud to be involved with training GLAA investigators and other staff in advanced interview techniques used when obtaining accounts from witnesses, victims and suspects.

I am well aware that the GLAA staff I have helped to train have dealt with some very serious and high-profile human trafficking cases. I am proud to say that the training that I and the other Zakon Training staff delivered has upskilled many of the GLAA staff such that they became more confident in their abilities, and more sure of proving cases in court and thereby helping more victims.

Another specialist group of people that I have worked with through my association with Zakon Training has been police interpreters. Many of the victims, witnesses and suspects in human trafficking cases do not have English as a first language. Without the help of interpreters, it would be very difficult for prosecuting agencies such as the police and GLAA to obtain accurate and timely accounts from the victims in particular, or for suspects to be dealt with legally and ethically. 

I have helped Zakon Training to deliver a number of workshops to hundreds of interpreters from all over the UK, covering such subject matters as their role in the police interview, and the recognition of modern slavery and human trafficking offences and victims.”

Join the conversation using the hashtags #EndHumanTrafficking and #HumanTrafficking on social media.

You can find out more about how to report suspected cases of human trafficking here.

The racism faced by teenagers in the UK: new research

“Thousands of people took part in Black Lives Matter protests in the UK in recent months, not just in solidarity with Black people in the US following the murder of George Floyd, but also standing against racism in the UK. However, some people in the UK may assume that racism is not as big an issue in Britain as it is in the US – my latest research suggests otherwise.”

Read more on The Conversation here

Natter Me Duck

Policing Lecturer and Mental Health Coordinator, Deborah Sproston-Bewley, talks about the ‘Natter Me Duck’ initiative she created to help out students during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Within a few days in March the measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 became immediate and were drastic. You don’t have to be at the epicentre of the pandemic for your life to be turned upside down; due to the Covid-19 lockdown, it is a scary time for students.

Our campus became quiet and our classes moved on-line, all of which impact on the students.

We have students who are still living on campus and maybe feeling sad and isolated.

I am the Mental Health Coordinator for the school, and as such I thought about what I could do while we were all in lockdown and unable to communicate with each other on a regular basis. 

I came up with Natter Me duck, which is a platform through collaborate that students can log into on a specific day and just have a natter, not just with me but with other students.  For those of you that don’t know in Stoke-on-Trent duck is a common phase used.  E.g. you OK duck?

The idea behind ‘Natter Me duck’ was for students to natter about anything.  From how I cut my fringe? how do I bake a cake? or I’m suffering with anxiety due to void 19. It is a place where students can share their experiences and support and advise one another.  

The main aim is just to have a natter and for students not to feel isolated and on their own.  

An e-mail is sent out to all 750 students in our school which informs them of the date and time of a ‘natter me duck’ session and gives them the link to join.

Homeless numbers set to rise – but lockdown shows government can solve this

Fiona Hassett, is a PhD Scholarship Student, researching on homelessness, addiction and mental health issues and the lack of service provision.

“…as lockdown rolls on, it seems some homeless people are choosing to leave or even being evicted from their temporary accommodation. This is despite efforts from support workers, local councils and the government to enable them to “stay at home”.

With many hotels and B&Bs now reopening for tourists, there is also a real risk that many other homeless people will simply be returning to rough sleeping in the coming days and weeks. And along with the risks that come with rough sleeping, being homeless also increases the likelihood of contracting and spreading COVID-19.”

Read the full piece on The Conversation, here

To Kill a Mockingbird – Some thoughts on World Day for International Justice

On World Day for International Justice (17th July), Law Lecturer, Dr John McGarry shares some thoughts on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 

The other day, some friends mentioned that their daughter who, after years of saying she wanted to become an engineer, had decided that she now wants to study law. Part of the catalyst for her change of mind had been the death of George Floyd in the US, as well as other allegations of police brutality, heavy-handedness and injustices against black people, and other members of BAME communities, both in the US and in the UK.

I suggested that she might enjoy the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book had lately been on my mind because, being one of my favourites, I had recently persuaded my 12 year old son to read it. Also, as it happens, I am writing this in July 2020, the 60th anniversary of the book’s publication in July 1960.

The book’s narrator is Scout Finch who tells of events from her and her elder brother Jem’s childhood. It is set in the 1930s, Depression era America, in Maycomb, Alabama, a society rigidly and deeply divided by racial bigotry.

At the story’s heart is the false accusation of rape made against a black man, Tom Robinson, by a young white woman, Mayella Ewell. Scout and Jem’s widowed father, Atticus Finch, who is the town lawyer and a representative in the State legislature, is appointed by the local Judge to represent the defendant. He explains to Scout that, despite there being some ‘high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man’ he was morally compelled to do so because ‘if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.’ So, contrary to the sentiments of many of his neighbours, Atticus defends Tom fully and to the best of his ability. Despite this, and despite his obvious innocence, Tom is found guilty of the rape. He is later fatally shot while trying to escape from custody.

 

What shines compellingly throughout the book is the outright simple decency of Atticus Finch. Even in his questioning in court of Mayella and her father, he acts with courtesy and humanity. This is especially so with Mayella; he recognises the ignorance, poverty and brutality that blights her life. And it is clear that it causes Atticus significant anguish to reveal beyond any doubt that Mayella is lying, which humiliates Mayella and her father, but which Atticus must do to defend Tom and attempt to save his life.

Scout and Jem’s relationship with their father is also central to the book. Jem, in particular, as the older child, gradually begins to realise with dismay the inherent injustices of the society in which they live and to appreciate the remarkableness of his father. Atticus, in turn, tries to instil in his children his own values, including that they should try to understand those around them and see things from their perspective, saying to Scout ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’ (incidentally, Barack Obama adopted this quotation in his farewell address as President).

I have always been struck by one particular vignette in the book: Atticus teaching his son about courage by making him read every afternoon to their dislikeable neighbour Mrs Dubose as punishment for Jem attacking the camellias in her front garden. We later learn that Mrs Dubose was dying, that Atticus asked Jem to read to her in order to provide a distraction while she weaned herself off the morphine to which she was addicted, and that this was because she wanted to leave the world free of her addiction. Atticus later explains to Jem:

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

 This, of course, is also true of Atticus’s defending of Tom Robinson – that in a society like Maycomb in the 1930s, Atticus was beaten before he began in trying to defend accusations against a black man made by a white woman, but that he saw it through anyway, no matter what.

Many find To Kill a Mockingbird to be poignant and uplifting; and many lawyers were motivated to pursue their careers because of it and they continue to be inspired by the character of Atticus Finch. An illustration of this enduring influence is the erection, in 1997, of a monument to Atticus Finch by the Alabama Bar Association in Monroeville, Harper Lee’s hometown.

Yet, the book has also been subject to criticisms. It has been criticised for perpetuating a white saviour myth whereby the poor black man needs to be saved by the good, honest white man. I acknowledge the charge but think that, in depicting a particular time and place, the book probably accurately reflects the reality: that in 1930s Alabama a black person would need a white lawyer if charged with a crime as serious as rape. It has also been said that Atticus does not sufficiently challenge the bigotry of those around him, his friends and his neighbours. This criticism seems to me to have some strength; indeed, as I have already indicated, Atticus advises his children to try to rub along with those around them. But I also wonder whether it is completely valid. How many of us call out every injustice that we see or every illiberal opinion that we hear? Not many, I imagine; most of us pick our battles and try to do good where we can.

Besides, when it would have been easier to do otherwise, Atticus defends Tom Robinson to the full extent of his capabilities. And he does so even though this comes at significant emotional, and sometimes physical, cost to himself and his children – even camping outside Tom’s prison cell the night before the trial to protect him from a lynch mob.

So, despite the criticisms, I see Atticus Finch as a hero and, while a work of fiction, To Kill a Mockingbird, like all fiction, reveals truth – that injustices are perpetuated by human beings, not monsters; and that people are complex, they may be thoroughly abhorrent in some ways while being noble and virtuous in many others. The book also serves as a worthwhile reminder to would-be lawyers of the good they can do in a world where justice is sometimes in short supply and where lawyers often acquire a poor reputation; indeed, it is a reminder that lawyers may sometimes be the only ones that stand between people and the injustices they face, that it may take real courage to do this when the client or the case is unpopular but that they do it anyway because it is the right, the decent, the just, thing to do.

 

Bear with a Care – The Final Chapter

The time has come to say goodbye to our favourite bears. Let’s see what they have been up to in their final week. 

Baby Bear is such a good helper

Linda Wilson was the lucky winner of the Donna Louise bear

What do we have here: an important letter?

Divoc is excited by his letter

Time to pack (one day to go)

…and just like that, it’s time to say farewell.

Farewell to Divoc, Margie and Tootsie.

Thank you to Kath for the wonderful Bears with a Care, and everyone who donated.

Kath has said “thank you to everyone who has supported us. We have raised an awesome £2610 for the Donna Louise Hospice.”