CLOCK reflects on ten years of providing legal outreach for communities facing barriers to access to justice.

The Community Legal Outreach Collaboration Keele (CLOCK) will reflect upon its 10th anniversary in June 2023, since being established as a response to the significant withdrawal of legal aid under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).

CLOCK is a unique and innovative research led project bringing together universities, law firms, barristers chambers, mediation, charitable and court services to educate, assist, monitor and promote access to justice for disadvantaged communities.

Founded in 2012 by the School of Law at Keele University, CLOCK applied Dr Jane Krishnadas' 'Transformative Methodology' (2008), listening to 'Voices of Experience'; a group of women from a domestic violence refuge, who shared their fears and proposals for how to support women going to court alone following the significant withdrawal of legal aid under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

CLOCK co-created a multi-agency collaboration with the Stoke Family Court, law firms, mediators the Citizens Advice Bureau, Domestic and Sexual Abuse survivor support services, to design the unique and innovative role of the Community Legal Companion (CLC).

Dr Jane Krishnadas reflects on CLOCK's 10th Anniversary

Keele currently has 60 active CLCs and has trained over 340 companions since 2012. Since its formation, CLOCK university partners have assisted more than 6,000 legal cases, with Keele assisting over 4,500 of those cases.

CLCs assist with access to mediation, charitable, law firm and court services, to signpost litigants to participant organisations for access to Legal Aid assessment, mediation assessment, charitable support services, and affordable legal services and assist according to the McKenzie Friend Principles to fill in Court Application Forms, arrange case papers, accompany in formal/court proceedings, and take notes.

CLOCK has been Highly Commended by the Attorney-General National Access to Justice Award, 2016, and the Green Gown Awards for 'Benefitting Society', 2019.

Dr Jane Krishnadas, Director of Legal Outreach at Keele, said: "Since the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 significantly withdrew legal aid, it has been critical to put research into practice. Listening to the ‘Voices of Experience’ of women from a domestic abuse refuge share their fears and proposals of how they would face going to the family court, alone, helped to inform and co-create a collaboration of legal professionals, charitable sector and the courts, to train law students as Community Legal Companions through CLOCK.

"CLOCK is a transformative methodology for access to justice, directly assisting more than 6,000 litigants in person and submitting robust evidence for the reform of Legal Aid."

CLOCK currently operates from 10 University Law Schools - Keele, Brighton, Sussex, Canterbury, Leicester, Oxford Brookes, Wolverhampton, Liverpool John Moores, York and York St Johns - in the eight respective Court Centres from Stoke-on-Trent, Brighton, Canterbury, Leicester, Oxford, Wolverhampton, Liverpool and York.

Testimonials and case studies from students, alumni, and friends of CLOCK

Hannan is a final year student at Keele and Senior Community Legal Companion in CLOCK.

“I have a very unique and special role in CLOCK. I joined in my second year during the hybrid era of the pandemic.

CLOCK has grown exponentially in the last two years or so, given that the pandemic has meant that a lot of families have struggled and there has been a lot more child arrangement cases. There is now a lot more financial involvement, and a lot of people have struggled to get access to the legal system when required.

The way I describe CLOCK is the bridge between the legal system and the public. There's a high level of poverty and hardship in Stoke-on-Trent, meaning people often struggle to get access to legal support when required - lawyers can cost hundreds if not thousands of pounds.

The CLOCK companion role varies quite a bit. Many people are referred to CLOCK by Social Services or judges to get help. They've fill out an application form online and that gets filtered through our system and then a Community Legal Companion, who has undertaken weeks of training, will contact them to gain an understanding of their problem.

Quite a typical case would be a child arrangement situation where a family has separated. A mother or father would come to CLOCK saying, “What do I do? I want to see my children”, for example. We will then do a very brief legal aid check, and if that person is eligible for legal aid, we can signpost them to the appropriate legal services.

The second strand of CLOCK is completing court paperwork. Bearing in mind that the literacy rates in Stoke-on-Trent aren't very high and a lot of people struggle to fill in court paperwork - which might be up to a 100-page document which they need to complete within 11 hours. This can feel very daunting, especially during an emotional and stressful period. Companions can fill in forms and help write witness statements, and submit them to the courts to reduce administrative burden."

"If I had to describe CLOCK in 3 words, I would say it is "Inspiring, Innovative and Impactful".

When I arrived at Keele in 2015, CLOCK was still in its formative years, yet it had already begun making a significant impact within the community and among students. Current students and recent alumni who had been Legal Companions could not stop raving about the positive impact CLOCK was having within the community and the great experiences they had as Legal Companions.

As such, when I began as Legal Companion in 2017 my expectations were extremely high, and I can honestly say being Legal Companion with CLOCK has had an impact far exceeding what I could have imagined.

When myself and two of my peers began representing CLOCK at the Sanctus Asylum-Seeker drop-in in Hanley, we were halfway through our second year, and I personally found myself at an academic and professional crossroads. Beginning to feel disillusioned about the legal profession and the degree I was studying; working as a Legal Companion provided me with a needed fresh perspective on how I could use my degree in a positive manner.

I am extremely grateful for my CLOCK experience, and it has had a profound impact on my career in the years since. My tenure as a CLOCK Legal Companion ended in May 2018, and although I was only in the role for 14 Months, my time with CLOCK is still playing dividends over four years later. In my present role as Independent Modern Slavery Advocate, I am regularly tasked with working with vulnerable communities, conducting interviews relating to serious legal matters, and discussing serious and complex topics in a trauma informed manner. All of which as traits which I attribute to my time spent as a CLOCK Legal Companion.

However, above all what I am most grateful for in relation to my time as a CLOCK Legal Companion, is the impact my peers and I were able to have on the people who we supported. CLOCK taught me how to take the skills, theories and concepts learnt during my studies and practically apply them in a meaningful manner on the lives of people within the local community who needed it most.

Assisting at Sanctus allowed us a unique opportunity to positively influence the real lives of people struggling through hardship within the city. We were provided with the opportunity to support on asylum cases during a time where the effects of the global displacement crisis meant a considerable number of asylum seekers were being housed in the local area and were in desperate need of support. We lived their disappointments and shared in their successes. We helped to alleviate stresses and concerns some service users had, and we also got to watch other service users begin to

adjust to their new lives in a new country. It was truly an honour of mine to represent CLOCK at Sanctus and be a small part in changing the lives of the people we supported.

When I think of all the people who I assisted in my short time as CLOCK Legal Companion, it becomes hard to imagine the sheer number of people who have been positively impacted by CLOCK and all the Legal Companions who have filled these roles over the past ten years. I can honestly say that without CLOCK I would not be in the position or career that I am today, and I would be without so many of the positive outcomes I have been able to experience because of my time with CLOCK. I am truly honoured to say that I have been a small part of what has made CLOCK such an important, inspiring and impactful force over its first 10 years. And I am so excited to see where CLOCK goes and the impact it will have over the next ten years and beyond."

How long have you been a Community Legal Companion?

“I have had the privilege of being a Community Legal Companion for almost two years. I started in September 2020. More so now that I am a Senior CLOCK Companion.”

Please can you explain what this role entails?

“Being a CLOCK companion involves assisting Litigants in persons either via phone or at the court desk with legal matters e.g. Filling in court forms, witness statements etc.

We work closely with third party organisations like SAVANA, CAFCASS, CAB etc. and we also work closely with Law firms - we often signpost to these for help with managing cases, legal aid checks, fixed fee or exceptional case funding.”

Please can you tell me a bit about your CLOCK experience so far.

“CLOCK has been an invaluable experience. It has taught me so many useful skills that are essential for the legal profession. I have learned to be adaptable, and due to CLOCK, I have spoken to a varied range of clients - some who are non-native and some who have basic at best understanding of the legal system.

I think CLOCK should be highly commended, especially Jane [Dr Jane Krishnadas] and her team for starting CLOCK in the first place. So many clients have had support when the legal profession had said no. There definitely needs to be more organisations like CLOCK and I hope, in my future, I can help towards this.

I helped one LIP who had been a victim of domestic violence, but despite all the knock backs, she still stands tall and undefeated. She has turned her life around and I aspire to be as courageous as her - especially in the eye of danger.

I am extremely thankful to be a part of CLOCK and have so many more memories and takeaways that will remain in my memory for the foreseeable.

A big thank you to Jane, Sofia and Jo for being amazing and giving me this invaluable hands-on experience.”

What are your thoughts on the legal aid cuts?

“CLOCK has highlighted to me a major issue in relating to access to legal assistance.

It is shocking to know that so many people fall short of access to legal aid. It appears that the law is not in their favour. Especially victims of domestic abuse - many succeed on the merits but fail on the means. Proving domestic violence is also near impossible; the system seems negatively against the victims of domestic violence.

My opinion is that regardless of means, those that have suffered from domestic violence should automatically qualify for legal aid. I recall one case, perhaps the most significant case during my experience, she was unable to qualify for legal aid due to seeking refuge in a caravan that she owned, of which totalled more than the £3,000 limit. This seems undoubtedly unfair, in the trial the judge even commented about the unfairness of the court case, as the defendant had a solicitor and she, the victim, did not. How is this fair.

CLOCK has highlighted to me that I will always go one step further, to do anything I possibly can to ensure the limit of injustice.”

What do you hope to do when you have graduated from Keele? Is there a particular area of law you would like to specialise in?

"I am hoping to go on to be a solicitor - due to CLOCK I have a definite interest in Family Law and giving back in any way I can."

"I joined the CLOCK team back in September 2020, at the start of my second year at Keele. I became a Senior Community Legal Companion in September 2021.

Being a Community Legal Companion involves assisting applicants both over the phone and in person. The main areas we help with are helping to complete paperwork, assisting in court hearings by taking notes, helping to organise paperwork and court bundles and signposting service users to law firms and charities.

Each week we have a meeting with Jane [Dr Jane Krishnadas] and Jo to give updates on our on-going cases and to help with any new cases that have been added to the system. Once assigned a new case, I would make the first call to the applicant to gain a better understanding of how the service can help. From here I complete the online case information and signpost/arrange the next steps accordingly.

Since joining CLOCK, I have assisted in court hearings and meetings both in person, over the phone and on Teams. I have also assisted with court applications over the phone and at the CLOCK Court desk and signposted service users to specialist organisations for support.

From my very first call in October 2020, I have found the role to be very rewarding and insightful. Many people we support have felt let down by the system so it is a great feeling to be able to offer support to them during what can be a very stressful time. Jane and Jo are very supportive and are always on hand to help with any questions or concerns we may have about our cases. The weekly meetings are a great chance to have a catch up and to see if we can help with any new or ongoing cases. Visiting the court is a great experience as everyone you meet is very welcoming and positive about the help we offer. I have also found it to be a great insight into how the law works in practice.

The legal aid cuts have had a real impact on many people within society and this remains clear by everyone we help through CLOCK. Each phone call I make I go through the legal aid indicators, with most people not being able to apply for the financial support. From my perspective, those making the cuts to this critical service have no idea about what many people go through daily as many people feel very alone and unsupported when faced with court proceedings. Being part of the CLOCK team has been very rewarding and the majority of people are very grateful for the time we give to help them.

Upon graduating from Keele, I am keen to go into family law as CLOCK has enabled me to see the interesting and integral work that firms in this field do. I would love to continue to work in this area to help those that can’t get legal aid, so they know they are supported through the process."

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