An increase in divorce rates across the UK during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Emma Peake (Student)

Work and other activities give couples the opportunity to have time apart. However, this has changed during the Coronavirus lockdown, forcing couples to be together all day every day. This has caused divorce rates to rise.  

In 2019, divorce rates were around 7.5%. However, 9 months into 2020 saw divorce rates rise to 33.3%. Certain law firms have claimed that they have seen a 40% rise in divorce during lockdown, with more expected. A statement from Co-Op Legal Services states that ‘we saw a rise in divorce rates of 42%. It is normal for us to see a rise mainly after the Christmas period, due to finances, stress and other factors however, this year seems to have doubled in figures.’ The BBC also released a statement stating, ‘The impact of Coronavirus has reshaped our personal relationships, forcing us to live with people and isolating us from other people.’ 

‘A spike in divorce was expected’ claimed Nelson Law, ‘couples have been together 24/7 with financial worries, fear, stress and illness. Though, divorce should not be a rushed decision.’ Over 54% of people have lost income or taken a pay cut. A further 39% have applied for unemployment benefits, putting strain on relationships. Leading expert in Family Law, Laura McGuire claims that ‘It is best to undertake mediation or marriage counselling before divorcing.’  

 ‘Domestic violence and alcoholism have increased, also leading to divorces claims Aisha Vardag, a divorce specialist in London.  

Lockdown has given people the time to realise what they want for their future, and in most cases, divorce was long overdue meaning that the pandemic has given people confirmation that divorce was the correct option.  

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) is a Pro-Bono service providing free legal advice. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor. If you have an issue regarding Divorce, or contact with children, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will advise you on the legal aspects of the area.  Please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk for an appointment

The Pandemic and employment

Charmaine Watkins (Student)

Between April and June 2020, employment rates in the United Kingdom dropped by 220,000 which was the largest quarterly fall for more than a decade, since the UK Financial Crisis. According to The Independent since March, the total number of people who have dropped off company payrolls is 730,000, this increased by 81,000 in July alone.  

Covid-19 has had a major impact on employment rates throughout the UK, this is mainly due to a reduction in employment for over 65’s and also lack of part time jobs for younger people. The number of hours worked weekly during the pandemic was down by 203.3 million hours, this is primarily down to the number of people on the furlough scheme, with 7.5 million people estimated to be away from work during June. 

It was reported that in the UK there were 300,000 people away from work and did not receive pay in August due to the pandemic.  It is reported that the number of Non-UK EU nations in employment in Britain dropped by 284,000, which is the largest drop since 2015, this is due to the hospitality industry being hit hard by the pandemic.  

The Furlough scheme has been criticised for concealing the extent of joblessness in the UK. It is feared that people under the furlough scheme are classified as employed however, fear there will not be a job for them to return to after the Scheme finishes at the end of October.  It is expected that one in three companies will make redundancies in the coming months. 

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on employment related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk 

 

Do the police of Kosovo abuse their power? A student perspective

To begin with, I will introduce myself. I am Leona Shala, a Law student from Staffordshire University, and I have chosen to briefly talk about the corruption within the police system in Kosovo, due to my own experiences in Kosovo with the police. Kosovo is a small country with a lot of potential, which is held back due to corruption.

I will begin with one of my experiences in Kosovo with the police this year (2020). Being stopped by the police, [made me aware of] the lack of law-governing authorities. In England and Wales, we have the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which governs the police, but in Kosovo there is no [strict] legislation. There is not a specific format that is followed when stopping someone. For example, in the England And Wales the police must follow PACE code of conduct when stopping [citizens] and citizens have rights: [such as the well-known] ‘you do not have to say anything- but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence’. However, in Kosovo this does not exist. Evidently, it could be argued that authorities abuse their powers due to the lack of law and protocols.

Kosovo does have regulations put in place for the police, however these regulations are not followed [and] many of them are breached on a daily basis.

Based on Article 65 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo; Article 1 concerns itself with the guiding principles, these being:

  1. The actions of the Kosovo Republic Police shall be guided by the following principles:

1.1. fair and equal treatment of all persons;

1.2. respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;

1.3. neutrality and impartiality regarding persons’ political views and affiliations;

1.4. integrity, honesty and accountability in public service;

1.5. transparency – providing information to the public and being open to public;

1.6. legitimacy, suitability and proportionality;

1.7. commitment to employment, advancement and assignment of duties in comprehensive, merit-based and non-discriminatory manner, by reflecting the multi-ethnic character of Republic of Kosova and by recognising the principles of gender equality and human rights foreseen by the Constitution.

  1. Police officers shall exercise their authorisations and perform their duties in a lawful manner, based on the Constitution, on other applicable laws, and in the Code of Ethics compiled by the Police of Republic of Kosovo and approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
  2. The Code of Ethics should be in accordance with the above-mentioned principles and with the European Code of Police Ethics.

If you ask any person who has travelled to Kosovo, they will most likely tell you that they have been stopped many times just because they have had foreign number plates (for example driving a car with a  British number plate). Recently, Kosovo implemented guidance that police officers must stop harassing tourists. I have heard many people tell me that the police, upon stopping them, have asked for money [in order to waver the] fine [and] a criminal record; now this can sound like hearsay but it has evidently been proven that this happens. This form of corruption breaches many of their regulations which I have stated above.

On one occasion, I was stopped by the police in Kosovo. A young officer approached me and asked me for my driver’s licence and vehicle documents (this is one protocol the police follow). He stopped me due to not having a face covering on in my vehicle when I was the only one in the vehicle. There was no law stating that I had to wear a face covering in my vehicle. The first thing I picked up on was the fact that he did not state his name, station or even let me know what my rights were; he himself did not have a face covering on. 

This then made me think that there must be a significant number of vulnerable and less confident citizens who pay fines in a corrupt system, in which some police officers abuse their power. I know of many situations where police officers have stopped young women just so they can get their names and then have followed them on social media, [from asking] for their driving licence. [Asking for a driving licence is normal protocol, but] where does the line stop? It is not okay for male police officers to use their power to harass young women or any citizen regardless of gender.

The officer would have breached several procedural codes in England and Wales in this stop alone. It is clear this is probably the case with other individuals who are stopped daily and [are] uncertain about the law[ and their rights] and thus end up paying fines for offences that do not exist. It was useful to see the contrast between a country with a highly developed criminal justice system, compared to a very young country with a developing administrative system and administrative laws which have only recently been introduced.

 

 

 

 

Just what would a local lockdown mean for Wolverhampton?

Before a second lockdown was enforced around Birmingham and Wolverhampton, Lecturer in Law, Aidan Flynn was consulted on the topic for an article in the Express Star.

‘Aidan Flynn, a senior lecturer in Law at Staffordshire University and an expert in Government powers around coronavirus, believes Wolverhampton would most likely follow other towns which have brought in restrictions.

He said: “The two main issues would be the number of people gathering together in one area and restrictions on how certain businesses might operate in relation to times of opening. Broadly speaking, that’s what’s going on in Bolton at the moment.

There could be restrictions on food outlets. If there was to be a decision to tighten things in Wolverhampton in a similar way to Bolton then we could be looking at that situation of restricting opening hours.” 

He added: “There is the chance of the law being discredited if it is not properly enforced. You would probably have the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner thinking about how they can get more out of their special constables.” ‘

You can read the full article here

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

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.


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.

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.