In recent years, the UK Government has significantly cut civil legal aid in areas such as housing, family and welfare benefits, with a view to easing the strain on the public purse. These cuts were opposed by many, including lawyers, whose concerns that the most vulnerable within our communities could be left unrepresented in court, have been realised and as a consequence an undue burden has been placed on our civil justice system.
CLOCK, which stands for Community Legal Outreach Collaboration Keele, was initiated by Keele law school in 2013 following the implementation of the Legal Aid Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and the reduction of legal aid, which has resulted in growing numbers of people arriving at court without legal representation; the ‘litigants in person’. The initiative provides an opportunity for those within our communities who are caught in the so-called ‘justice gap’, to gain support and guidance from law students when they attend court without legal representation.
The project enables law students to become trained up as Community Legal Companions to assist litigants in person to navigate the complexities of the civil justice system. Companions provide signposting as well as other guidance and support to those in need and who attend court unrepresented, including acting as McKenzie Friends during formal court hearings. It is therefore a project designed, among other things, to give keen law students the opportunity to gain valuable employability skills by acting as Community Legal Companions at the county court.
Collaborative research between Christ Church and the University of Brighton (who operate a similar project in association with the University of Sussex), has shown that law students’ all-round experience is undoubtedly enhanced through the establishment of such Community Legal Companion schemes. The advantages of CLOCK are self-evident. Its presence at the law courts in Canterbury assists the local community, it facilitates potential mediation referrals for local mediation services (through agency signposting), it provides employability opportunities for law students through personal professional development/CV enhancement, and gives them a sense of responsibility, independence of thought and achievement through community/public spirited social justice engagement, as well as enabling an appreciation of legal ethics.