National Pro Bono Week

Emma Morgan (Student)

This week is Pro-Bono week, which promotes and supports people who provide free legal advice to those most in need. It is part of a global celebration of pro bono that takes place every year.

Students from Staffordshire University offer free legal advice to members of public as part of their law degrees, this helps prepare them for their future careers. This year SULAC students are taking part in the Law School Challenge, hoping to raise as much money as possible for Law Works and Advocate to enable Pro- Bono activities continue in the future.

This also enables the students to spread the word about the hard work and dedication they have put into their studies in order to help members of the public. The students are already well underway with their fundraising for the Law school challenge with the first event already completed and the next one being organised; the students are keen to beat last year’s total. There is also a fundraising page where you can support our cause :

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=ScalesofJusticeSULAC&pageUrl=1

Staffordshire University legal Advice Clinic is open and currently at Stoke Combined Court, Signpost Stafford, County Hospital and Stoke hospital, YMCA and HMP Stafford. If you would like any more information or to book an appointment, please contact us on SULAC @staffs.ac.uk or telephone 01782294800

Law Alumni Wins Lechmere Essay Prize

Naz Khan, a recent Graduate in LLB Law, has won the coveted Lechmere Essay Prize from Middle Temple.

“I am delighted to share that I have been awarded the prestigious Lechmere Essay Prize from Middle Temple.”

One prize of £500 is awarded every year for an essay from a member of the Middle Temple on a prescribed topic of no more than 3,000 words.

The winning essay ‘Do events since 23 June 2016 strengthen or weaken the case for the United Kingdom adopting a written, codified Constitution?’ was written during Naz’s time at Staffordshire University.

“Studying constitutional and EU law at Staffordshire University helped to improve my understanding of constitutional issues within the UK and equipped me with the knowledge to answer the essay question.

“Many students often find concepts within these modules difficult to grasp and quickly lose interest. I would say to the current flock of law students at Staffordshire University to remain focused and discuss these concepts in workshops with fellow students and professors as much as possible to improve your understanding.

“I was fortunate to have incredible professors’ and mentors at Staffordshire University, without their support and guidance I would not have had the confidence to enter the competition yet alone writing an essay worthy of winning the award.”

You can read Naz’s winning essay here.

Congratulations Naz Khan and all the best on your LL.M. at Durham University.

Welcome Week: an Educational Trip to HMP Drake Hall

A month into the first semester, students are settling in well to their courses. Welcome Week was a success in making students feel comfortable and getting them excited for their new course. We had trips, personal tutor meetings and team exercises to help them adjust. One of our students, Annie Middleton – a first year Criminal Justice with Offender Management student – has shared her experience of a valuable trip to HMP Drake Hall during Welcome Week.

During the university’s Welcome Week, Level 4 Offender Management students had the opportunity to visit HMP Drake Hall – a closed Women’s resettlement prison with an operational capacity of approximately 340 adults and young offenders. HMP Drake Hall also holds 25 prisoners in an open unit situated outside of the prison gate, which allows the women to access the local community and facilities such as the gym, work opportunities, and the local town centres, prior to their release.

Upon our arrival we were welcomed into the prison’s visitor centre. Unlike other prisons, and those depicted in movies and on TV, this visitor centre was a vast contrast from the dark and dingy visiting rooms that most of us were expecting. The pavement outside was covered in bright paintings where children could play and learn to count, and the centre itself was no different; bright blue walls and picture, comfortable chairs and a spacious environment where children and families would be made to feel safe and welcomed. It felt more like a community centre than a prison.

Our class were split into three separate groups, and as the first group were taken on a tour of the prison by Tim, who had kindly organised and made this visit possible, my group sat down with an offender, who also volunteers within the prison as a ‘Peer Advisor’. While talking with this offender, and a second one later in the day, we were given the opportunity to ask whatever questions we had about their experiences during their sentences.

The first offender we spoke to spoke about her experience living her life without her children. We learnt that the prison offers special ‘children’s days’ during school holidays, where the prison officers dress in normal clothes, and the environment is made to feel more normal for the children and their families. These days can be extremely beneficial to the women and the children, and as we learnt, can help keep the offender’s spirits up during their sentences, and help maintain a sense of normality into the lives of the children. The second offender we spoke to had very contrasting views from the first; she felt that she had been failed by the criminal justice system and was angry and dissatisfied with the support she had been receiving – or lack thereof. I asked her if she had received any mental health support to help deal with the emotional impact of her prosecution and sentence, and she spoke of how many women in the prison system never receive mental health intervention because the waiting time is usually longer than their sentence.

After, we were shown around the prison grounds, being shown the voluntary and paid outwork programmes; including the opportunity to work in an on-site call centre, the Halfords Academy and the Greggs Academy; all of which have the possibility of employment on release. The prison also offers schemes such as education, workshops, farming and gardening, a gym and a beauty salon where the women can spend money earnt from work. Walking around the prison was unlike anything we could have expected; it was, as the prisoners described “a holiday-camp gone wrong”; there were patches of bright sunflowers scattered around the grounds, and we caught a glimpse of a wandering duck; images you would never associate with a prison. The accommodation the women were in could not be further from typical cells; women are housed with approximately 20 other women, with laundry facilities, kitchens, and single bedrooms that can be easily compared to University accommodation.

Overall, this visit was an extremely eye-opening insight into the prison systems from the views of the prisoners themselves. The visit was also shocking to most as Drake Hall does not at all come close to the typical prison settings that most picture. However, as Tim said to us during our visit; does locking offenders away in dingy cells with no educational opportunities work in rehabilitation?

On behalf of myself and the rest of the Level 4 Class, I would like to thank Louis, Keith, Tim and the rest of the HMP Drake Hall staff for making this opportunity safe and educational and first and foremost possible.

Ministry of Justice closing 77 courts in 7 years.

On the 16th of October 2019, the chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service informed the Public Accounts Committee that 40% of courts are still being used for less than half their total available time. She alleges that more than two-thirds are situated within five miles of another court.

In September the Ministry of Justice revealed that they are planning on closing around 77 court and tribunal buildings over the next 7 years. The idea is that the money that will be saved will go towards modernising the remaining courts. HMCTS has already closed 127 sites in England and Wales since 2015. Between 2010 and 2015 around 140 buildings were also shut.

When these Courts were closed inaccurate information was used to assess the impact on Court users. Ms Acland-Hood suggests that this time they will look at the real travel distances for the individuals who use the courts.

Acland-Hood stated that access to justice remains the priority when considering the closure of courts although given the significant delays already being experienced by Court users it is questionable whether this can be achieved if further closures are made.

HMCTS were questioned on how the Magistrates and Crown courts were to manage if the government’s 20,000 extra police officers plan was to go ahead as this would result in more cases coming through the system. It was acknowledged that if there was a significant increase in cases there would be a problem.

Access to justice is already problematic. Further closures can only make this situation worse. SULAC offers free legal advice to members of the public in Stoke and Staffordshire. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

One million workers are being denied their rights

Hannah Lewis (Student)

A think tank called the Resolution Foundation claim as many as one in twenty British workers do not receive any holiday pay despite being entitled to the same. There are recorded to be 32 million people in the British workforce and the foundation suggests that at least one million people across the country are being denied their rights in one form or another. The report produced by Resolution First shows that workers are being failed by employers and despite the government taking steps to increase the resources of the HMRC and other bodies, it is largely up to the individuals of these injustices to hold their firms to account. More than 100,000 applications were made to the employment tribunal system in 2018.

Economists fear that job security is being undermined as the power of the trade union declines and the law fails to keep up with the changing employment landscape since the last recession. Although unemployment has fallen in Britain to the lowest levels since the 1970’s a rise in the use of the zero-hour contracts and employment through agencies has led to an abuse of workers’ rights. It is workers aged under 25 and over 65 that are most likely to be affected by violations of legal entitlements. The research shows that almost one in ten workers did not receive a payslip, which is a legal requirement. It is employees at the end of their working life that are the most likely to not receive payslips. The HMRC recorded 200,000 cases of workers not receiving minimum wage in 2018, the majority of those being at the beginning of their working career.

The British government have made many rules and regulations to control the labour market and ensure fairness to its workers. However, these rules are only as good as the agencies that have the power to enforce them. Violations remain a common feature of the job market and millions of people are missing out.

SULAC is a free legal advice clinic provided by final year law students at Staffordshire University. We can offer legal advice on all areas of employment law. Please call 01782 2944800 for an appointment.

 

‘More people need educating on Power of Attorney rights’

Bissmah Tariq (Student)

The Government’s Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) have announced a drastic rise in investigations into people with Lasting Power of Attorney over the 2017/18 period.

There have been many complaints of Lasting Power of Attorney misuse with a drastic rise in investigations of 45% over the past year. The majority of the investigations were carried out due to concerns from close relatives, local authorities, care homes, financial institutions and legal professionals.

Friends and relatives often accept the responsibility to make financial or health decisions on behalf of relatives or friends who no longer have the mental capacity to do so.

Since many do not fully understand what they are getting themselves into, this has led to people either accidentally or deliberately making mistakes such as not keeping clear records and wrongly gifting or taking money.

Royal London, which obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request, strongly encourage people to educate themselves on their responsibilities when they agree to act under a Lasting Power of Attorney.

Helen Morrissey, personal finance specialist at the insurance and pensions firm, said: “When done properly the attorneys fulfil a vital role in safeguarding the interests of the person they are acting for. But the sheer number of investigations into their actions is concerning and something needs to be done to curb poor practice.”

Someone agreeing to be appointed under a lasting power of attorney has a legal duty to help make important life decisions on behalf of the individual even when he/she lacks mental capacity. It is strongly recommended that you keep clear and well written records and bank statements as evidence of expenditure to protect your position.

For further advice on powers of attorney please contact SULAC (Staffordshire University Legal advice clinic. Our team of academics and qualified and experienced Solicitors have experience in this particular area and can provide you with free legal advice. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

Work Experience Alongside Offender Management Degree

Danielle Hackett is going into her second year in the BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree. She has been volunteering at Change, Grow, Live (CGL) and has written a post for us detailing how valuable she found the practical work experience opportunities.

Jade Taylor, a former student, is regional manager for CGL and several of our BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management currently volunteer on this programme.

I am starting my second year of Criminal Justice with Offender Management in September. In my first year of the course, I decided to become a volunteer for CGL (previously SOVA). CGL is a rehabilitation charity which works with offenders and ex-offenders in and out of prison, to help them to lead positive lives. In my role I work with the offenders whilst they are in prison serving their sentence and also when they get released from prison by mentoring them. I also pick up offenders on their release dates and support them throughout their first days out, as the first day out is always the most important. I also volunteer at probation, where the ex offenders can drop in and speak to us about an problems or queries they may have and I have recently had some amazing opportunities given to myself.

The first opportunity I had was a tour around YOI (Young Offenders Institute) Brinsford in Wolverhampton. That was the first ever YOI I had visited and I was stunned to learn that there was over 100 adult males also in there, even though there were 2 adult male prisons also on the site: Featherstone and Oakwood. The tour was very interesting and insightful, I walked through the ‘first night’ cells, where one half of the offenders were quiet and the other half were loud, banging on the doors and shouting abuse. I also got shown around segregation, where there were around 10 inmates locked up for things like fighting and at least half were on an ACCT. They had an education building, where the offenders were taught how to cook and they had gardens where the inmates were building a bigger pond. There is no therapy at the prison, therefore, I believe some inmates themselves used working on the garden as some kind of therapy. On res 5, the prisoners were trusted and so they had keys for their own rooms. The prison as a whole was more old fashioned than other prisons such as Dovegate.

The second opportunity due to my volunteering role which I have landed is being offered to be key trained at one of the prisons. Every second week, I will be based in one of the prisons, where I will be meeting with the male offenders, informing them about CGL, what we do, how we can help and generally answering any questions they have. Due to that role, the prison suggested that being key trained would benefit me, this involves 5 days of training and self defence.

Without volunteering I would not have had these opportunities, it is amazing being able to put everything we learn on our course at uni, into practice.

A Year On – The Bar Professional Training Course

Last year we published an article about celebrating the scholarship one of our students, Jake Edwards, won in order to complete the Bar Professional Training Course at Nottingham Trent University. We caught up with him to see how the course was and to tell us a little bit more about what it entails. 

I started the Bar Professional Training Course in September 2018 at Nottingham Trent University after receiving one of the Middle Temple Inn of Court Scholarships and the Nottingham Law School Dean’s BPTC Scholarship for Academic Excellence.

Before I enrolled on the BPTC I had to complete the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT). This test will not assess your legal knowledge, instead, it will test your ability to use reason and logic. The questions will test your ability to evaluate arguments, recognise assumptions and draw inferences.

On the BPTC I had to complete twelve exams, each assessing a different discipline necessary for legal practice as a barrister. These areas are criminal litigation (evidence and sentencing), civil litigation and remedies, professional ethics, drafting, opinion writing, resolution of disputes out of court (RDOC), conferencing, criminal advocacy (comprising of two assessments examination in chief and cross examination) and civil advocacy. You must then choose two optional modules, I took advanced criminal litigation and family law practice.

The course is very different from any undergraduate law course, the emphasis shifts away from academic research and legal theory. Instead, the focus is on practical skills. The assumption is that you now know the law, or at the very least you will inform yourself of what the law is. The sorts of issues you will face on a day to day basis will largely relate to evidence, procedure and advice.

During the BPTC, I attended twelve qualifying sessions at the Middle Temple, as this is required before you are eligible to be called to the bar. There are a wide range of sessions available including but not expressly limited to advocacy weekends at the Cumberland Lodge, mooting competitions, dining nights, music nights and lectures.

Whilst studying on the BPTC I worked as a County Court Advocate. In this role I have represented clients in court before District Judges across the Midlands on a range of issues including personal injury claims, RTA claims, infant approval hearings, debt recovery hearings, fitness to work cases, mortgage possession hearings and deposit protection hearings. In this capacity you are subject to the same code of ethics that governs barristers and you will frequently find yourself up against opponents who are themselves practicing barristers usually up to five years call.

The BPTC assesses your level of competency with the grading ranging from not competent to outstanding. In July, I received my BPTC results in which I was graded an outstanding overall. I am now waiting to be called to the bar at the Middle Temple in November (Michaelmas call). To be eligible for call you must have obtained at least a competent overall on the BPTC along with twelve qualifying sessions.

Congratulations for all of your hard work Jake!

Graduate Wins Scholarship for Bar Professional Training Course

Lauren Bicknell, a Graduate in LLB Law with a Foundation Year, has won a scholarship from Middle Temple to study the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course).

“I am beyond delighted to share that I have been awarded the Jules Thorn Scholarship from Middle Temple to study the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) in Nottingham this September.

My path to the Bar has been somewhat unconventional. I finished my A-levels with less than desirable grades and only got in to University through Clearing. However, I have proved to myself that with resilience and determination, anything is achievable. I was exceptionally fortunate to have great mentors at Staffordshire University. Their unwavering support and guidance played an indispensable role in my success.

I am incredibly excited to begin this next chapter of my journey in becoming a barrister.”

Congratulations Lauren and all the best for the Bar Professional Training Course