CityCLAC Director, Sally Gill, welcomes the audience to the formal launch of the service which opened to the public in September 2022.
The City Law School hosted an event to launch the City Community Legal Advice Centre and LawIRL service on Wednesday 3rd May 2023.
Deputy Dean of The City Law School, Professor Mark O’Brien, opened the event by welcoming Lubna Shuja, President of the Law Society of England and Wales to deliver the key note speech of the evening.
Sally Gill, the Director of the City Community Legal Advice Centre, welcomed the audience to the formal launch of the service which opened to the public in September 2022. Sally explained that since the service was established, it has been engaged in various activities. She mentioned the extensive Pro Bono work carried out by The City Law School, including the School Exclusion, Environmental Law, and Company Insolvency projects. They have also formed partnerships with organisations such as the Free Representation Unit, the Pro Bono Community, and Appeal.
At the launch event, Sally described the aims of the "Law in real life" (LawIRL) initiative, which provides students with opportunities to gain practical legal skills and experience through activities and volunteering. The programme aligns with the dual goal of widening access to justice and to the legal profession. The City Community Legal Advice Centre focuses on providing services in areas such as housing, employment, family, advice on disability benefits, and small business, addressing the needs of the local community in Clerkenwell, and further afield.
Sally highlighted the partnerships and collaborations formed with organisations such as Matrix and 11 KBW Chambers, One Westminster, and various not-for-profit organistions. She spoke of CityCLAC and IRL conducting mock trials, court visits, and workshops aimed at enhancing students' exposure to the legal profession and providing them with practical experience. Sally expressed gratitude to the lawyers, organisations, and services that volunteer their time and support the City Community Legal Advice Centre. These partnerships are crucial for the success of their work, along with referral networks and local services.
She also shared success stories of former student advisers who have secured jobs and training contracts thanks to their volunteering experience. She mentioned the accolades received by the City Community Legal Advice Centre at the recent National Attorney General and Lawworks student pro bono awards. Sally also outlined the service’s future plans, including the development of a legal placement course for undergraduate students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They aim to complement existing funded areas of law rather than replacing them, emphasising the importance of a properly funded legal aid system. The Legal Advice Centre has already expanded its services to include a disability form-filling clinic, a housing disrepair clinic, and a start-up clinic in partnership with the Launch Lab at City. Sally expressed her optimism about the City Community Legal Advice Centre's potential for growth and achieving their aims by partnering with more charities and law firms. She thanked Lubna Shuja, the Law Society President, for attending the event to officially launch the new service.
Lubna Shuja, the President of the Law Society of England and Wales, spoke about the importance of upholding the rule of law and ensuring access to justice for all. The Law Society, representing 220,000 solicitors, works to protect and enhance these principles. Lubna explained that the rule of law is the foundation of democracy and economic success, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their position, is bound by the same laws and has equal rights in the justice system. The Law Society collaborates with the government, MPs, and members of the House of Lords to prevent legislation that weakens rights or undermines the rule of law.
She went on to explain that the Law Society also works globally to protect lawyers facing persecution and supports their rights. They engage in various actions, including sending letters to authorities, making submissions to international tribunals, and expressing solidarity with lawyers working under extreme conditions. To make the rule of law more accessible and understandable, the Law Society aims to reframe the concept and demonstrate its significance to decision-makers and the public. They emphasise the importance of an effective justice system and the dedicated professionals within it.
The Law Society raises concerns about threats to the rule of law, such as the Illegal Migration Bill, which may breach international law and damage the UK's global standing. They work closely with parliamentarians to ensure compliance with legal obligations and advocate for enhancing legal rights and protections in the country. Lubna said that access to justice is crucial, and the Law Society strives to make the justice system accessible and functional. They advocate for a well-funded and accessible legal aid system. A survey showed that access to justice has worsened over the past decade, with reduced areas covered by legal aid being a significant barrier.
Lubna explained that the Law Society is actively involved in addressing the challenges in both criminal and civil legal aid. They challenge the government's implementation of the Bellamy Review's recommendations for criminal legal aid through legal action. They call for immediate investment in civil legal aid and a comprehensive review of the system to ensure its sustainability.
To protect and enhance access to justice, the Law Society launched the 21st Century Justice project, a collaborative initiative involving various stakeholders in the justice system. The project aims to identify systemic improvements, considering changes in technology and the evolving expectations of the public.
Addressing the courts backlog, the Law Society published a five-point plan that includes investing in infrastructure and staff, adequate funding for legal aid, providing early advice to avoid court cases, improving technology, and better data collection. They advocate for reducing the backlog and restoring the courts' efficiency.
In conclusion, Lubna Shuja highlighted the Law Society's efforts to defend the rule of law and promote access to justice, emphasising the importance of these principles and the ongoing work of the organisation.