Manchester law students work to fill legal aid hole

Manchester university students and lawyers have launched a public law pro bono scheme to help fill the gap left by the £350m cuts in legal aid.

Operated by the Northern Administrative Law Association in conjunction with Irwin Mitchell and the University of the Manchester, the Manchester Public Law Pro-Bono Scheme has been created as a free advice centre at the city’s Civil Justice Centre.

The scheme offers a two-tier system – the first is an appointment based advice service for those wanting to bring a judicial review claim where a qualified lawyer and two students give practical advice on the claim.

The second tier is where litigants in person who have failed to obtain permission for judicial review on paper are referred by the court to the service in order for a solicitor advocate or barrister, assisted by two students, to present an oral application seeking permission.

Explaining how the scheme came about, Sam Karim, barrister at Kings Chambers and the scheme’s director, said the scheme is “the type of service needed at a time like this when government austerity measures have severely cut back on legal aid. The Ministry of Justice has made £350m of cuts and this has left many deserving people without any recourse to the court system simply because they can no longer afford it. The result is that people increasingly have to represent themselves as litigants in person, which is a daunting prospect even for the most determined individual.

“The courts were seeing a lot of litigants in person and were finding that hearings that should take half an hour were taking three hours and realised we could assist,” he added.

Commending the work of court staff, Karim said “this couldn’t work without the court signing up for this with us – even when resources are being cut they are still willing to help.”

While the service was officially launched last week it has been running for nearly three months and in that time the service has dealt with four oral hearings.

Karim says that the scheme currently has capacity to do up to eight oral hearings and between 10 and 15 appointments a month, but that in future students from other universities and colleges could become involved and the scheme expanded to cover Leeds and Birmingham.

Focusing on the benefits for students Karim says “students are getting to see cases coming through the appointments system, giving advice and then working on the case when it comes through the court referral system. That means they can see almost the full circle of the case.”

In addition to Kings Chambers, Kenworthy’s Chambers and Garden Court North have also provided barristers.

For further advice on setting up a university law clinic see this feature from Lawyer 2B.