Law Graduate Secures Training Contract with Law Firm

Law graduate, Jessica Latham has secured a Training Contract with Peninsula Law firm in Manchester. She shares her experiences of studying, both undergraduate and postgraduate, at Staffordshire University and her experience finding a Training Contract.

I had always wanted to pursue a career in Law, but it never felt like the right time to take that initial step. I was living in Thailand at the time, with nothing but a backpack with a few necessities in and an uncertain future. One day, I found myself using a communal PC, scrolling through courses in Law and routes to qualify as a solicitor. The next day I was on UCAS applying to do a degree in Law.

I applied for the foundation degree, as well as the three-year degree, at Staffordshire University; I had been out of education for some time and didn’t have the required UCAS points to qualify for entry requirements. To my surprise, I secured a place on the three-year LLB law degree. I packed my bag and got on a plane back to England to start my new venture at Staffordshire University.

Throughout my Law degree, I gained an array of knowledge of the different areas of Law. In the final year, I was able to choose practical electives, such as Mooting and Legal Advice Clinic. When I started the LLB, I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a Solicitor or Barrister. However, now my ultimate goal is to become a Solicitor Advocate.

Whilst in the last year of my law degree, I was chosen to be part of the team for the International Criminal Court Moot (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. This was an excellent experience as we battled through rounds in front of judges and professionals from all over the world.

Staffordshire University’s Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) is an invaluable experience for a student and gave me a plethora of skills that I believe moulded me from a student into a trainee solicitor. SULAC is a fantastic edition to Staffordshire University’s Law department, allowing students to give legal advice to the public under supervision. I gained confidence, communication skills, problem solving, attention to detail and resilience, to name a few. The transferable skills that I gained enabled me to confidently start work in my first role as a Paralegal, fresh out of university, interviewing a client by myself on my first day.

I then decided to stay on at Staffordshire University to do my Legal Practice Course (LPC) with a Masters (LLM in Legal Practice). This was more practical than the LLB and prepares you for practice. The LPC is very intense, but the lecturers are so supportive and want to see you succeed.

My journey has not been plain-sailing and I have had setbacks throughout my studies. In the last year of the LLB, I was under mental health hospital care due to past trauma. Staffordshire University was my safe place for a long time, turning up to lessons as if nothing was wrong. In 2020, during my LPC, I was under mental health hospital care once again; the Law department and Well-Being team could not have been anymore supportive. I managed to complete my studies and these setbacks were all to become part of my success.

Now, as my time comes to an end with Staffordshire University and I hand in my dissertation (my last ever submission), I leave with fond memories and have secured a Training Contract as an in-house, Trainee Solicitor with an international firm. The interview involved questions on current case law, which I had studied on the LPC and had access to sources – such as Practical Law and Law Works – to maintain my commercial awareness.

Without the knowledge and experience gained throughout my time at Staffs and the support of lecturers, I very much doubt I would be living the life that I am today. It seemed a million miles away for someone who was once a mental health hospital patient, from a deprived area and low income family (that would be the first to go to university).

I started Staffordshire University with nothing but bad A-levels and no future prospect [other than] a dream to be a Solicitor one day. I leave Staffordshire University no longer a dreamer; I leave as a goal setter, with a first-class Law degree, an LLM in Legal Practice and a secured role as a Trainee Solicitor.

I no longer dream ‘one day’. Today I said, ‘it’s day one’.

My goal is to have my own law firm one day, offering students work experience placements to help future generations from all backgrounds to achieve their dreams too.

#ProudToBeStaffs

Law Alumni Wins Judicial Review in High Court

I am Michael Connor, proud to be an alumni of Staffordshire University. I studied for the two-year, accelerated LLB (Hons) at Staffordshire University from 2015 to 2017. I graduated with a first class honours Law Degree. I also achieved a Scholarship from Law Society to study the LPC at Nottingham Trent University.

My time at Staffordshire University was very rewarding. I found the Law School to be a nurturing, supportive and encouraging environment. Even though I am a mature student, both students and staff welcomed me with open arms. A law degree is challenging and requires dedication to achieve[, but] I will always have the best memories of my time at Staffordshire University. Before attending university I was in the Welfare Rights profession for twenty years.

I have put my law qualifications to work  for the benefit of our most vulnerable citizens [and made] legal history. I successfully applied for a judicial review in the High Court. This is now case law: (I think this is OSCOLA compliment!)

R (CONNOR) V SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WORK AND PENSIONS [2020] EWHC 1999 (Admin)

After hundreds of hours looking at case law on Westlaw and Lexis, my own case is on there! I progressed this claim as a litigant in person. I had learned valuable in-court advocacy skills from taking part in extra curricular mooting sessions facilitated by Staffordshire University. I also learned about judicial review in the Administrative Law classes.

My judicial review is allowed. Mr Justice Swift in the High Court has declared that it is unlawful for the Department for Work and Pensions (“DWP”) to require Income Related Employment and Support Allowance (“ESA”) claimants to have a mandatory reconsideration by the DWP, before they can appeal adverse benefit decisions to a first tier tribunal.

This is because it is disproportionate that such claimants can access an appeal pending rate of ESA when an appeal is lodged, but cannot when a mandatory reconsideration is requested. This is incompatible with the fair trial and right to tribunal provision of Article 6 of European Convention on Human Rights. It is therefore unlawful per section 6 of Human Rights Act 1998.

BACKGROUND

This case arose after the DWP took 18 weeks to reconsider my personal ESA claim, after they incorrectly refused entitlement. During this time I had no right of appeal to the independent first tier tribunal. As I am a carer for my mother, who is severely affected by Parkinson’s Disease, I was able to claim Carers’ Allowance. However, for most ESA claimants there are no alternative benefits that can be claimed. This causes severe financial hardship and destitution for ESA claimants. Only when the DWP finally complete their internal review can an appeal be lodged. An appeal pending rate of ESA can be paid until the appeal is heard. This creates a disproportionate anomaly that makes the mandatory reconsideration requirement incompatible with the fair trial and tribunal right contained in article 6 of European Convention on Human Rights.

I conducted this judicial review claim as a litigant in person. I did all the court claims and submissions myself. I also presented my case in person at Birmingham High Court on 19 March 2020. I was supported by a  successful crowdfunder campaign. Ms Lauren Bicknell, also a Staffordshire University alumni , assisted as Mckenzie’s Friend.

Although not officially a barrister I do have a recent first class honours Law degree, a Master of Laws with distinction and achieved a legal practice certificate. I have also had a twenty-year career as a Welfare Rights professional. Presenting  as an LIP gave me a unique opportunity to have High Court advocacy experience.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

I am a confident and effective advocate through years of representing at Social Security Tribunals. Legal research is also something I enjoy and am very effective at. I also very much like to think outside convention to find new approaches to old problems. I was therefore confident that I could progress this judicial review as a litigant in person.  Good understanding of the civil procedure rules really helped. I submitted a “N244” application for a court order for a judicial review cost capping order of zero costs to be claimed from me as the claimant. Had I not done so I could not have afforded to proceed. Thanks very generous donations to a crowdfunder campaign, raising over £7,000, I was able to raise the money for court fees and my own costs.

I know from experience that when in court it is best not to be rigid with one’s submission and to know your material inside out. This allows one to be flexible in court. If the judge is just not accepting a line of argument or submission, try another until one bites. Also keep the Judge happy. If she or he is hinting pursuing a line or to stop, go with it. I had a very inquisitorial Judge, Mr Justice Swift. It was a challenging time in court. For me though the harder the better, I can think on my feet. I also was very fluent with my law, case law and facts of the case. Not so for the two DWP barristers who had a very hard time in court. However, unlike me they have to go with their client’s instructions. And their lead Barrister, Ms Apps, was very helpful in preparing the court bundles and drafting agreed court orders. Always make bridges and connection with the opposition lawyers. They are only doing as instructed, it is not personal that they oppose you in court.

Judicial review is unusual as there is a requirement to reach agreement and the court has to seek the least intrusive method of addressing any government unlawfulness or illegality. Therefore I was very happy with the final order, a declaration of unlawfulness for the mandatory reconsideration rules for ESA claimants.

LAW NOTES

The mandatory reconsideration regulation is 3ZA of Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 1999

Article 6 of European Convention on Human Rights states that,

 “in determination of his civil rights and obligations everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing, within a reasonable time, by an independent tribunal established by law.”

Section 6 of Human Rights Act 1998 states:

“it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with a convention right.”

Swift J applied the proportionality test in Bank Mellat v HM Treasury (No.2) [2014] AC 700:

could the objective have been pursued by a less intrusive measure without compromising its achievement; and having regard for the objective pursued and the severity of the consequences of the measure enacted, has a fair balance been struck between the interests of those affected and the general public  interest?”

Swift J therefore concluded;

“It is anomalous that the payment pending appeal arrangements for ESA under regulation 30(3) of the ESA Regulations do not extend to ESA claimants who are required by regulation 3ZA to request the Secretary of State to revise a decision and await her decision on that request before initiating an appeal.

 My conclusion is that regulation 3ZA of the Decisions and Appeals Regulations is a disproportionate interference with the right of access to court, so far as it applies to claimants to ESA who, once an appeal is initiated, meet the conditions for payment pending appeal under regulation 30(3) of the ESA Regulations.

In my submission I also relied on Golder v United Kingdom (1979) 1 EHRR 524 and Ashingdane v United Kingdom ECHR case 8225/78 to support my proposition. Namely, that disproportionate hindrance to potential appellants to tribunals and courts is incompatible with Article 6 ECHR

MICHAEL CONNOR  

Staffordshire University Alumni

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances: How Can Forensics Assist in the Location and Identification of Victims of Enforced Disappearances?

Please note this blog post addresses deceased individuals and human remains.

 

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances takes place on Sunday 30th August 2020. According the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances (2010), an enforced disappearance can be defined as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” Enforced disappearances are not confined to one country or continent, nor did they only happen in the past. Thousands of children and adults disappear on a yearly basis around the world.

Those working within Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology have been involved in the search, recovery, and identification of victims of enforced disappearances for several decades. At Staffordshire University, this an area covered on our Forensic Science and Forensic Investigation Undergraduate degree programmes. Our Forensic Investigation students not only have the opportunity to learn how to identify skeletal remains, but they also develop the skills needed to construct biological profiles for the purposes of identification. Students will also learn how to identify skeletal remains that have been subjected to taphonomic processes, which may occur naturally or may be an intentional act to conceal remains (e.g. burning). Identification skills are developed and put into context through the use of scenario based practicals and case studies are used to enable exploration of how forensic anthropologists have identified victims of enforced disappearance around the world, e.g. from present-day Mexico, Argentina’s military Junta, and the Spanish Civil War. Enforced disappearances are focused upon in detail, including the protocols that are followed in the search, recovery, and identification of human remains from a range of contexts in Iraq, Cambodia, Argentina, and Bosnia, to name but a few.

The importance of locating and, indeed, identifying those that have lost their lives following enforced disappearance is two-fold. Firstly, we must consider human rights of the deceased. As Claire Moon (2019, 55) highlights, the deceased “have the rights to identity, to return to families, and to proper burial”, and such rights may act “to compensate for rights that have been stripped away in life”. Secondly, we must assist the living that are left behind when family members and friends disappear. Without the identification of their loved ones, family members are left searching for answers and, in some cases, take it upon themselves to try and locate their kin. For example, in Argentina in the mid-1980s, families would carry out searches for the disappeared, whilst in present day Mexico, families are employing forensic techniques to locate and identify their kin (Moon 2020). Enforced disappearances destroy the lives of families and communities, but those of us working within forensics can give the living and the deceased a voice. We should not only be training the next generation of forensic scientists, but carrying out outreach to support the families that have been left behind.   

If you would like to know more about enforced disappearances, there is a plethora of resources online. However, I would recommend the following Twitter accounts for up-to-date information.

Twitter

Equipo Argentino de Anthropología

Human Rights, Human Remains (research project led by Claire Moon): 

United Nations

UN Human Rights

 

Dr Kirsty Squires

Senior Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology

Kirsty.Squires@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

References

Moon, C. 2019. What Remains? Human Rights After Death, pp.39-58. In: Squires, K., Errickson, D. and Márquez-Grant, N. (eds.) Ethical Approaches to Human Remains: A Global Challenge in Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology. Cham: Springer.

Moon, C. 2020. Extraordinary deathwork: New developments in, and the social significance of, forensic humanitarian action, pp.37-48. In: Parra, R.C., Zapico, S.C. and Ubelaker, D.H. (eds.) Forensic Science and Humanitarian Action: Interacting with the Dead and the Living. London: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances. 2010. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance [online]. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CED/Pages/ConventionCED.aspx

 

 

Individual Rights Day

August 29th is Individual Rights Day, which is the birth date of John Locke, a philosopher who first prominently argued for the rights of each single human being. These individual rights include:

  • the right to an adequate standard of living
  • the right to the highest possible standard of physical and mental health
  • the right to education
  • the right to work and to decent work conditions
  • the right to social security.

Whilst these rights are intrinsic within a civilised society, ensuring that these rights are upheld can sometimes be difficult without legal support. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who need and no longer have access to legal advice are ordinary people dealing with everyday issues that could affect any of us.

These include parents denied access to their children because they don’t know the court process, vulnerable people facing eviction, victims of domestic abuse too afraid to leave.

Budget cuts to the pro bono advice sector and the significant reduction of legal aid has meant that access to justice can be difficult for many people. Organisations like LawWorks and Advocate support and develop pro bono activity across England and Wales attempting to ensure that the pro bono efforts are targeted where they can be most effective and have the greatest impact. A significant number of their registered clinics are run by Universities.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (“SULAC”) was launched in 2018.  Since inception we have helped in excess of 400 clients. The breakdown of the categories of work can be seen in the table at Appendix 1. Most of the issues related to family law and housing. In the vast majority of cases, legal aid is not available meaning that if the complainants cannot afford to pay for a solicitor, they may struggle to enforce their rights.

SULAC attempts to empower these people by providing guidance, support and assistance to enable them to navigate the justice system on their own. The service is run by final year law students, supervised by qualified solicitors. Whist we do not run cases, we provide a detailed letter of advice, court forms and, if possible, signpost and refer to other organisations who may be able to help.

SULAC’s manager, Tracey Horton, recognised that lack of access to justice affects a significant number of people within Staffordshire, not just the most vulnerable and unemployed. In the circumstances, in addition to offering the service to local community hubs, we also offered a service to many public sector organisations including, HMP Stafford, two local hospitals, a military base and local MP’s. The aim was to connect to as much of the local community as possible. In addition to this we also offered a service to YMCA and during the next academic year we will be extending this service to Women’s Aid.

In light of Covid19, the service will be operated remotely, rather than face to face during the next academic year. It is hoped that clients will be interviewed via Microsoft Teams or, if the technology is not available, by phone.

The service will resume in October 2020. Should you require an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

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.