SULAC Annual Report 2021/22

Staffordshire University’s Legal Advice Clinic has helped over 200 people with legal issues this academic year.

Staffordshire University’s Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) is run as a 40-credit module in the final year of the LLB; it also forms the main component for our Professional pathway route on the LLB. SULAC provides free legal advice to the general public and certain sectors of the community across Staffordshire. SULAC students are thoroughly trained and supervised in everything that they do.

The clinic is managed by Tracey Horton, a qualified solicitor who was in private practice for over 25 years. No client is seen without a supervisor and no letter of advice is sent out unless it has been approved by a supervisor. Clients are interviewed by two students and their supervisor. The students will then research the area of law and a letter of advice will be sent to the client within 14 days. No advice is given at the first interview.

SULAC offers advice on most areas of law including family, consumer, personal injury, and housing. SULAC does not offer debt counselling and cannot advise on criminal or immigration issues. Where SULAC cannot assist the students will signpost or refer to another organisation, where possible. The service is currently limited to one letter of advice, but it is possible that the service will be extended to cover case work in the future.

Tracey Horton, SULAC Manager, has said that “SULAC continues to serve our local community. Last academic year we helped over 200 people with legal issues. The vast majority related to family law enquiries, either child arrangement orders or domestic violence issues. We also saw a rise in wills and probate enquiries and contentious property issues. Please see the link for our latest annual report. SULAC continues to operate over the summer for clients experiencing domestic violence and will resume fully in October.”

You can read the full report here.

Law Lecturer Invited to speak at Expert Consultation Organised by the United Nations Human Rights Office

Dr Samantha Spence, Senior Lecturer in Law at Staffordshire University, has been invited to participate, as speaker, in an expert consultation organized by the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

The expert consultation takes place in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 47/8, on human rights violations and abuses rooted in harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks. The expert consultation will take place from 18-19 July 2022 at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva. Switzerland, with the participation of various experts and stakeholders.  

The objective of the expert consultation is to analyse the human rights and gender impact of harmful practices arising from witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks on groups at risk, and to identify measures to prevent them, protect those vulnerable to them, and implement accountability measures for such violations. The outcome of the meeting will inform the preparation of a study to present at the Human Rights Council at its fifty-second session.  

“I am thrilled and honoured to be invited to participate in the OHCHR expert consultation, continuing the important work done so far, and raising awareness of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.” 

Progressive Plastics

A sustainable future for plastics is within our grasp. But it will require chemical scientists, policy makers, those in industry, and those from a range of disciplines to work together.

In collaboration with The Royal Society of Chemistry, Professor Claire Gwinnett joins other experts on microplastics to explore the important issues and difficult questions about microplastics. Find out more here.

‘Adolf Island’: The Nazi Occupation of Alderney

A new book, which tells the stories of thousands of labourers caught up in the Nazi occupation of Alderney in World War 2, has been published.

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‘The book [‘Adolf Isand’: The Nazi Occupation of Alderney] is the culmination of ten years’ research carried out by Staffordshire University forensic archaeologists Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls and Associate Professor Kevin Colls. Their investigations on the island have also been the subject of a TV documentary which was screened on the Smithsonian Channel in 2019. Find out more here.

Law students join in welcome for newly enrolled students at APIIT Sri Lanka

On Friday the 8th of April, some first year LLB (Hons) Law students joined Aidan Flynn, Academic Link Tutor (Law), to participate online in giving a warm welcome to students embarking on the university’s LLB course at APIIT Sri Lanka.  For over twenty years, APIIT Sri Lanka and Staffordshire University have each been enriched by their positive partnership relationship.

Aidan Flynn (far left) with current Law students at Staffordshire University

Losalini Boteanakadava, a first-year student at Staffordshire, said “It was a privilege to participate in the welcome given to new LLB students during their induction at APIIT Sri Lanka.  We enjoyed this interaction with our peers in Colombo and Kandy.”

Finding the missing and unknown: Novel educational approaches to warming up cold cases

Professor Caroline Sturdy-Colls, Associate Professor Jo Turner, Associate Professor Rachel Bolton-King, Dr Sam Spence and Emma Tilley have co-authored an article with Karsten Bettels (Police Academy Lower Saxony), Dave Grimstead (Locate International), Cheryl Allsop (University of South Wales), Anna Chaussée (University of Winchester), Brendan Chapman (Murdoch University), David Keatley (Murdoch University) and Annette Marquardt (State Attorney Department Verden) on cold cases.

“In recent years, students in police academies and higher education institutions around the world have worked together to analyse cold cases including long-term missing persons cases in collaboration with investigators and prosecutors. In 2020, three European organisations, the Police Expert Network on Missing Persons (PEN-MP), AMBER Alert Europe and Locate International, succeeded in connecting these educational organisations enabling them to work collectively on cases and conduct cold case analyses (CCA) across international borders.”

You can read the article, ‘Finding the missing and unknown: Novel educational approaches to warming up cold cases’ on Science Direct here.

Students Invited to Lincoln’s Inn Event for Aspiring Barristers

On 23rd February, a few of our Law students were invited to Lincoln’s Inn, London. Mary Carstairs, a current Law student, has written about the experience.

On February 23rd I had the opportunity to attend the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London, at an event for students of law who are interested in becoming barristers.

The event began with a tea and coffee reception followed by a most informative presentation by members of Lincoln’s Inn covering history, ethics, practice points, etiquette, and job opportunities. There was a wine reception with the opportunity to engage with other students and members of the Inn, judges and barristers. We were then invited to enter the Great Dining Hall where we enjoyed a very formal and elegant dinner. The seating arrangement ensured that there was a barrister or judge near enough to engage in conversations during the meal.

Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London, and its founding is thought to be in 1310. The library of the Inn holds the black books, as they are known, which document minutes of the governing council dating back to the 1400s. A notable installation in the Dining Hall, is a tapestry which dates to the 1600s and looks more like a painting than a tapestry. One of the women I was seated near during the meal is an employee of the Inn and she explained that while some repairs and restoration was being done, the tapestry was torn; of course, it was repaired in short order.

As a mature international student from a country with relatively new legal traditions (dating back only 250 years, not 600 years like Lincoln’s Inn), I was in awe of the grandeur and the history of Lincoln’s Inn. It was an opportunity and an honour to have been able to experience some of the aged traditions of Lincoln’s Inn; as well as having the opportunity to engage with many esteemed practitioners.

I would like to give thanks to the faculty for allowing me this amazing opportunity. I am sure I speak for all of us who attended from Staffordshire University when I say, ‘Proud to be Staffs’.

Historical Bore or Prison Lesson?

On Tuesday 15th March, our first year Law students went on an educational trip to Shrewsbury Prison. Duncan Carson, a Law student, has written about the experience

Prisons. We’ve all seen them on the telly. From Ronnie Barker’s prisoners’ view in “Porridge,” (incidentally, the only ever sit-com with no opening music) to C4’s more recent officers’ view in “Screw.” Well now you can go and walk on the wing without committing a crime. HMP Shrewsbury has been transformed and is open to the public for visitors. It’s cold, forbidding, authentic, cold, grim, unpleasant and cold. Yes, it really is that cold, on a chilly March morning, it was a relief to step outside into the wind for some warmth. It has cells made-up to show how they have changed since the 50’s – one which represents riot conditions – and they will lock you in one until you answer some riddles to “escape.” You can even visit the long disused execution room.

A cell set up to represent riot confiditions

It’s all very real and if you visit and walk around yourself, it can be very dull.

But…

Take the tour with real ex-prison officers Graham and Mick and it all comes to life. Not in a television melodrama way, but through the eyes of those who have lived it. Graham is a natural performer who will describe what happens upon arrival, where “normal” inmates and “protected” prisoners (sex offenders, convicted policemen and the odd lawyer etc) are segregated. He’ll tell you about the swift and violent retribution for not repaying a prison debt, and he’ll tell you about his  regret of watching inmates kick their drug addiction only to see them return three months after release, because they have nowhere to go expect back to the same bad crowds and same bad habits that got them banged up in the first place. Mick loves to tell a “war story.” Some are amusingly disgusting involving slop out buckets and some make you despair as inmates come to harm because of managerial penny-pinching and corner-cutting in the name of efficiency.

Throughout the tour, these guys, with decades of experience, will tell you how it really was in HMP Shrewsbury; and you can feel their pride in what they felt was a good prison, where officers could build relationships with the men and they felt they could do something to help make sure that, at least some of them, never returned. The feeling that they disapprove of newer, bigger, “more efficient” prisons is palpable and you can tell they believe a 5% budget saving today means a 10% increase in returning customers.

These are not bleeding heart liberals, but professionals who have figured out that dehumanising treatment and a “lock ‘em up and forget ‘em” attitude does not magically transform criminals into well rounded, law-abiding members of society. They talk with excitement about “listeners;” prisoner volunteers who sit and talk with suicide risk inmates and then advise the officers how often they need to be checked on. They proudly mention that many prisoners said HMP Shrewsbury had the best food in the country. They state that tobacco never drove anyone to violence (except as prison currency), but the ban on smoking created a gap which hard drugs filled as inmates look for something to de-stress. This led to an escalation of danger on the wings. They appreciate prison is a punishment, but without rehabilitation there is little point in release dates.

So please, go to Shrewsbury Prison. Take the tour and see if you can honestly say you came away without having at least a more nuanced approach to crime and punishment.

Oh, and wrap up warm. It’s really cold

The Pending Poverty Catastrophe in Stoke-on-Trent: How Benefit Cuts and the Cost-of-Living Crisis Impacts on the Poor

In this co-authored report, Dr Luke Telford, Professor David Etherington, Vice Chancellor & Chief Executive, Professor Martin Jones and Citizens Advice Stoke-on-Trent, address the ‘pending poverty catastrophe in Stoke-on-Trent and how benefit cuts and the cost-of-living crisis impact upon the area, particularly the poor’.

Read the full report here.

Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

Rabab Ali (Student)

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on 6 April 2022. The Act, which received Royal Assent in June 2020 aims to introduce significant changes to divorce law and move towards a “no fault divorce”.

The new act allows either party to allege  an irreversible breakdown of the marriage without establishing a fault or separation fact. By eliminating the need for one party to “blame” the other, the court might determine that it would be unreasonable to expect the parties to continue married.

Because a declaration of irretrievable breakdown is irrefutable proof that the marriage has ended, the court must now grant a divorce. This is significant as it puts a stop to one spouse contesting a divorce even when the other wants it. It also allows spouses to divorce even if they cannot provide a reason why.

 Former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP has said: ‘These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably.’

Importantly, the new law permits some separated spouses to file a joint divorce petition. Joint divorce petitions are already permitted in other jurisdictions but not in England & Wales.

The new law also extends the time it takes for a Conditional Divorce Order (formerly known as Decree Nisi) to be granted to 20 weeks, giving spouses more time to make practical arrangements. While this is a major expansion of the present six week and one day term, many divorces do not end in that time owing to ongoing financial issues.

Amongst many other things, the language used is set to change, with Decree Nisi becoming “Conditional Divorce Order” and Decree Absolute becoming “Final Divorce Order”. By using more user-friendly terminology, it is hoped that people would better understand the two stages of divorce proceedings, and that the removal of the ‘fault’ facts will encourage amicable proceedings.

Here at SULAC we offer free legal advice on all family matters including divorce and financial affairs. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk