Public launch of new community legal initiative at Keele

Posted on 19 October 2012
The Community Legal Companion idea not only helps to serve those seeking support when encountering the legal system, but it also gives the lawyers of tomorrow vital experience and a deep understanding of the importance of access to justice.”

A pilot scheme that will explore a new way to deliver legal assistance for self-represented litigants, helping to bridge the ever-widening gap in publicly funded legal services, is being trialled in North Staffordshire.

Launched by Keele University School of Law, the Community Legal Companion (CLC) is an innovative new role developed from the McKenzie Friend principle,* which will train Law students from the University, under the supervision of partner organisations, to provide unrepresented litigants practical assistance throughout the legal process.

Each Community Legal Companion will be trained and supervised by professional partners to provide support to the citizen, from filling in applications to sorting through papers and note-taking in formal proceedings. The CLC will also help individuals consider the wider range of legal pathways through dispute resolution or within the court room.
The role has been developed from the School’s pilot McKenzie scheme with 'Voices of Experience', to attain the local courts’ recognition of a neutral, objective and professionally guided, assistance in family law, social welfare, housing, offender, victim and witness support civil, criminal and tribunal proceedings.

Building on Keele's research and educational collaboration with the Citizens Advice Bureau, Law Society and several Midlands based law firms and regional third sector organisations, the scheme provided a timely response to a call from the National Law Society President, Lucy Scott Moncrieff, for “innovation in legal services to meet unmet community needs”.

Commenting on the new initiative, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: “The cuts to legal aid are sadly inevitable, but the time for reflection on those cuts has passed and we must now look at how to ensure access to justice facilitated for those who need it. Keele University’s initiative encapsulates that approach and I hope that it will eventually be replicated in some way in other areas around the country. The Community Legal Companion idea not only helps to serve those seeking support when encountering the legal system, but it also gives the lawyers of tomorrow vital experience and a deep understanding of the importance of access to justice.”

The CLC initiative was developed following a Regional Law Society roundtable convened in May 2012 for President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff to outline in detail the implications of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). In response, Simon Harris from Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau presented the ‘Impact of Welfare Reform Act’ - co-authored with Gill Brown, Brighter Futures - to highlight the specific impact on the North Staffordshire community.

Following the discussions of declining capacity to deliver legal services, Dr Krishnadas, Director of Legal Outreach at Keele University, drew attention to a direct email request from a community member for assistance in a distressing family law case where she could not afford legal representation. Dr Krishnadas then proposed the role of the Community Legal Companion as a way to attain recognition of legal assistance for a wider range of local community legal service needs through a collaborative supervision and training programme.

Guided by Steve Kirwan, Secretary of the North Staffordshire Law Society, and endorsed by the Management Committee of the North Staffordshire Law Society, the development of the CLC has also been supported by the President of the North Staffordshire Law Society and other members of NSLS. 

Dr Andrew Francis, Head of the Keele University’s School of Law, comments: “The Community Legal Companion scheme responds to the widening gaps in publicly funded services in the courts and in the wake of changes to the system following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012, the launch could not be more timely.

“The Companions are an innovative means by which support will be provided to individuals experiencing acute need.  Our third year Law students are extremely well placed to play this role, having enjoyed an excellent foundation in law, while at the same time developing a deep understanding of the complex issues facing those delivering or experiencing legal services. I am hugely proud of the commitment and creativity demonstrated by all those involved. The Companion role is a fantastic model for what can be achieved through this unique partnership.”

The Keele scheme will initially be trialled in North Staffordshire from the end of October with Keele students who have been trained for the role. Training may then be made more widely available for North Staffordshire citizens delivered in partnership with law professionals, to critically respond to the unmet community needs due to the widening gap in the provision of public legal services.

To become a Community Legal Companion, prospective students undertake a detailed training programme delivered by Keele Law School and local partner organisations before being paired with a regional law firm where they will be introduced to litigants and can start performing their role.

The scheme has already been piloted with organisations including Citizens Advice Bureau, Voices of Experience, Brighter Futures, Savana, Arch and Aspire Housing.

HH Judge Duggan, the Designated Family Judge for Staffordshire, has expressed support for the scheme:"These are very difficult times for those involved in litigation in our courts. Public funding for legal representation is not so widely available as it was in the past but the cost of engaging solicitors is prohibitive. In this context the local scheme called 'Community Legal Outreach Collaboration, Keele' is a very welcome development.
“The judges of Stoke-on-Trent County Court are very impressed by the scheme and the presence of trained volunteers in our court on a daily basis will provide a valuable source of support for many Court Users facing difficult issues. We feel fortunate that this imaginative scheme is based locally.  We look forward to supporting the development of the scheme”


*An individual who assists an unrepresented litigant in presenting their own case in court. The person does not need to be legally qualified and does not act as advocate for the litigant.

Notes to Editors


The Community Legal Companion is founded on a collaborative community partnership in research and education between the School of Law at Keele University, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Staffordshire Police Force, The Crown Prosecution Service, West Midlands, Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, North Staffordshire Law Society, Choices, Challenge North Staffordshire, Embrace, CPS, Brighter Futures, Aspire Housing, Voices of Experience, Arch, Savana, Grindeys Solicitors, Salmons Solicitors, Knights, Ask, Brown &Corbishley, Lichfield Reynolds, Nowell Meller and Arthur Boulton Solicitors and Regent and Rowchester Chambers.

Further testimonials

Mike Wolfe, former mayor of Stoke-on-Trent and board member at Brighter Futures, said: "Government cuts to Legal Aid will deny justice and essential services to some of the nation`s most vulnerable people. Here in Stoke we have more than our fair share of people who desperately need legal help to maintain their income, their safety or their homes and to enforce other basic rights. From April the help which has been available will mostly disappear. I am delighted that CLOCK will both provide companions to people who suffer from the cuts, but will also act as a monitoring project to tell Government what impact their cuts are having. I believe it will help individuals who need to access advice and legal help and it will also give us a new breed of lawyer who are trained to understand the issues facing poorer people".

Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent adds: “I am very pleased to be associated with the work of the Community Legal Outreach Collaboration Keele (CLOCK). Severe cuts to legal aid will prevent the vulnerable and disadvantaged from seeking redress through the courts. The public launch of CLOCK today is a community-led response to the gaping hole the government have created, and I applaud the efforts of everyone involved.”