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.” 

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.”

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

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

Law Students Qualify for Client Interviewing Competition Finals

Congratulations to two of our Law students, Duncan Carson and Susan Guest, who have made it to the finals of the Client Interviewing Competition! Susan kindly shares her experience of the regional competition. 

Bringing together an unlikely pair to represent Staffordshire University in the Client Interviewing Competition was the beginning of our journey just over a month ago. As a level 6 student, I had the benefit of almost three years legal studies to draw on to help us analyse the legal problem we were faced with. Duncan, a Level 4 student, complimented my knowledge with his impressive interviewing skills and ability to draw out the information from the client.

Our practice began under the close supervision of Tracey Horton, a qualified Solicitor who guided and advised us throughout our practice interviews. Bringing a range of scenarios and characters into play allowed us to encounter challenging characters, situations and provide advise in both a legal and non legal context.

Having Tracey as our coach gave us invaluable feedback on our performance, enhanced our interviewing techniques and most of all developed us as a team. Identifying where our strengths lay and how best we used those to complement each other’s skill set, provided us with the best possible opportunity to not only obtain the information from the client but how to analyse the information to give the client the most appropriate advice, allowing them to make an informed choice based on their circumstances.

 “Duncan and Susan did amazingly well and put in a lot of work, rehearsing beforehand. Despite technical difficulties on the day, they showed their resilience by remaining calm and professional”

– Tracey Horton


Although we experienced some technical difficulties on the day of the competition, Tracey had prepared us for any eventuality that could arise. Continuing the interview while the technical issues were resolved ensured minimal impact on the client interview on the day.

Both myself and Duncan now look to the semi finals on the 12th March 2022, and through practice and preparation hope to bring Staffordshire University Law department success in the competition. #Proudtobestaffs

Good luck in the finals, Duncan and Susan!

Legal Clinics Move into Hospitals

Jack Marshall (Student)

The need for free legal advice centers is continually growing, especially in light of cuts in legal aid. Many people cannot afford to instruct a solicitor, so these centers are often a lifeline for the general public. They give specialist advice to members of their community on issues such as debt, housing, family law, employment and education. These clinics use their knowledge to help people to save their homes, keep their jobs and protect their families. This is classed as Social Welfare Law.

In 2019 the Minister of Justice committed to pilot early legal advice as part of its Legal Support Action Plan in hospitals. The Justice Minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar confirmed that the preparation work for this has commenced, such as registration for early legal advice for debt, housing and welfare benefits which will commence later this year. The pilot will be launched in Manchester and Middlesbrough.

When questioned on why there is a need for a pilot Lord Bird Lord Wolfson responded by saying “you need a test to ensure that what you are doing is the most useful thing you can do, we are looking at putting legal advice in Hospitals as we know that people who have legal problems often have other social welfare problems as well”. He also went on to say that “it is often the case that you cannot resolve all your problems through the law you need a holistic approach”. He also said that we need to see hard evidence about this and that the pilot will help in this area. Getting clinics into the NHS will not be easy as in April 2017 the Department of Health issued a ban on personal injury firms advertising in hospitals . The Chief Executive of NHS England  quoted that the Health Service wanted “Lawyers out of Hospitals and Doctors out of court”.

Also in the debate there was cause for the Government to restore Legal Aid funding as Labour’s Lord Watts said that “the Government got it really badly wrong when they cut millions of pounds from this area” he also expanded further by saying “would it not be better to restore these cuts and then do a proper review and make sure that, this time, it covers people and gives them some rights?”. Lord Wilson commented that he has no intention of going back to the pre Legal Aid cuts  position.

SULAC saw the need for clinics in hospitals when it first launched its service in 2019. Before the pandemic SULAC provided clinics at Shrewsbury hospital, Stafford and Royal Stoke. These clinics were very successful. Following the pandemic SULAC now operates online, and we interview clients on Microsoft Teams. If you have any issues on housing, debt, employment or family and would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Domestic abuse rises sharply as cause of homelessness in England

Lauren Foster (Student)

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, in England the number of households left with no home because of domestic abuse has risen by more than 1/3. The following statistics illustrate the vast vulnerability of homelessness households, causes by domestic violence. 

6,310 households were acknowledged as homeless according to the local council due to domestic abuse between July and September 2021. In comparison in July and September 2020, there was 5,550 homeless households reported. This was a clear increase of 13.7% Domestic abuse victims accounted for 17.3% of the households that were made homeless during this period.

There was a total of 9,730 homeless families with children. This was 26.7% of the overall homeless households. Again, there was a 15.1% increase from 2020, and an increase of 8.6% from 2019. It has been stated by the chief executive of Shelter that they urgently require the support of the public, so that they can provide free, and expert help to the people in need.

These figures are likely to increase in the future especially with the cost of living increasing and previous protection from eviction introduced during the pandemic having been removed.

All councils have a responsibility to try and prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. Families with children should be housed by the councils if it is found to be the best way to help.

Being homeless is a terrifying time for anyone, more increasingly so if there are children involved. If they did not already have a history of mental health problems, then they would most likely acquire mental health conditions. This would be caused from the desperation, stress, and uncertainty. From the 67,820 homeless or at risk of homelessness households, 51.1% had at least one extra support need. It was found a quarter of the homelessness statistics had a history of mental health problems. 16.5% had a support need relating to physical health or disability, and 21.1% had experienced or were at risk of domestic abuse.

Here at SULAC we can help with housing needs. If you would like an appointment please telephone 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Woman’s Distress After Landlord Admits Harassment

Jorjoh Touray (Student)

A tenant in County Down, Northern Ireland has been harassed by her landlord to such an extent that criminal proceedings were brought.

Zyndzie Akimodo rented a property from Matthew Betty in Bangor, County Down.

On 24 February, Betty, 41, pleaded guilty to harassment under the 1978 NI Rent Order and was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years.

Ms Akimodo said on one occasion men, allegedly posing as paramilitaries, were sent to the house to intimidate her and her daughter. Whilst it could not be proved that Mr Batty was directly involved it was found that he facilitated the visit.

On another occasion a representative from NI Water turned up at the property to disconnect the water supply. He told Ms Akimodo that the landlord told him that the property was vacant.

Ms Akimodo said “Our homes are meant to be a safe and secure place and because of the actions of the landlord, she had no peace at home.”

In England it is illegal for your landlord to harass you or try to force you out of a property without using the proper procedures. You could claim damages through the courts if they try and do so.

What constitutes as harassment?

This can be anything a landlord does or fails to do that would make you feel unsafe in the property or forces you to leave. This can include stopping services like electricity, refusing to carry out repairs, anti-social behaviour by a landlord’s agent or the landlord directly.

Your landlord also cannot evict you without a court order and he/ she would be guilty of illegal eviction if they did so. Even if your landlord’s property is repossessed by their mortgage lender, the lender must give you notice so you can find other accommodation.

What can I do?

If you think you’re being harassed or threatened with illegal eviction, or the property you rent is being repossessed, talk to your local council. It may have someone specialising in tenant harassment issues.

Local councils can also start legal proceedings if they think there’s enough evidence of harassment or illegal eviction.

You could also contact a legal adviser, a Citizens Advice office or Shelter’s housing advice helpline. Your local area may also have other housing or legal advice organisations – your local council or library should have details.

If physical violence is involved, contact the police.

For further advice, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has a detailed guide for tenants facing harassment and illegal eviction.

Here at SULAC we can offer advice on all housing issues. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk