Keele’s legal outreach initiative goes national to tackle Legal Aid cuts

Posted on 17 February 2015
We believe it’s important that people in need have the necessary backing to get the legal representation required to result in a fair judicial outcome. It’s particularly appropriate that the national roll-out of the initiative coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

A legal outreach initiative to help combat Legal Aid cuts has now been launched nationwide by Keele University. The Community Legal Outreach Collaboration, Keele (CLOCK) programme provides unrepresented litigants with practical assistance through the legal process.

The national roll-out of the scheme follows the success of the initiative which began in Staffordshire in 2012. A key foundation for CLOCK’s national launch is its innovative IT referral system, an easily accessible pathway that can direct those needing legal help towards solicitors.

To date, CLOCK has assisted more than 1,500 court users and currently refers an average of 12 cases per week for Legal Aid applications and affordable legal services.

Dr Jane Krishnadas, director of legal outreach at Keele University School of Law, says: “Since the cuts to Legal Aid there have been a number of people unable to access the legal help they need. This is why we started CLOCK. CLOCK was set up to draw together the academic, legal, charitable and court sectors, to assist access to services and monitor and identify where individuals have not been able to access fair representation, creating a pathway for the reform of Legal Aid.

“We believe it’s important that people in need have the necessary backing to get the legal representation required to result in a fair judicial outcome. It’s particularly appropriate that the national roll-out of the initiative coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. It reminds us of the principles our justice system was founded on and our civil right to assistance and duty to assist.”

At CLOCK’s national launch high-profile speakers from the legal world, including Lord Justice Ryder, Professor Richard Susskind and members of the Law Society, gave their support.

Richard Miller, Law Society head of Legal Aid, says: “As expected, we are seeing growing numbers of people struggling to navigate the family courts without legal assistance.

"The problem for many separating and divorcing couples is knowing what support might be realistically available to them. CLOCK will help them understand their options, including pointing them to solicitors’ services, where these are a viable option.

“But we must still stress that for many people the support of worthwhile initiatives like this will not be enough. There are still many families who need more legal assistance than is available to achieve the best result for their children.”

The CLOCK partnership provides comprehensive training to law students to qualify as ‘Community Legal Companions’, to provide a free service to support their local community to access Legal Aid and affordable legal services and to assist litigants-in-person, with McKenzie friend* principles. CLOCK offers the Community Legal Companion Service at court desks to provide a valuable source of support for many court users facing difficult issues.

Keele University is currently rolling out the CLOCK service with Staffordshire, Wolverhampton and Birmingham City University Law Schools to deliver the Community Legal Companion Service in Staffordshire and the West Midlands. CLOCK is training Liverpool John Moores, Salford and Essex Law Schools to deliver the Community Legal Companion service in their respective courts.

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"The day provided:
• A comprehensive review of the questions relating to litigants in person, by those who have a genuine passion for the resolution of the problems that frequently arise.
• A strong inter-disciplinary approach to problem solving and support.
• An impressive use of modern technology and the skills and expertise of academic lawyers and students to provide the structure within which community legal companions can work.
An impressive achievement and a very worthwhile day."
Rt Hon. Lord Justice Ernest Ryder, Lord Justice of Appeal (commenting on the CLOCK national launch event)

“The legal world is in a state of unprecedented flux. Cost pressures, liberalization, and new technology are combining to drive great change. In this shifting landscape, it is inspiring to find an initiative like CLOCK – driven from the academic world, directly engaging young aspiring lawyers, collaborating effectively with relevant stakeholders, and embracing a variety of information technologies. It was a pleasure to be involved in CLOCK’s launch and to witness at first hand an appetite and enthusiasm for delivering legal services differently.”
Professor Richard Susskind OBE, author, Tomorrow’s Lawyers

“Due to the cut back in Legal Aid, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is witness to an unprecedented rise in the numbers of abused women having to represent themselves in legal matters, and to the growth of discriminatory religious forums for dispute resolution in minority communities. Both these developments have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our society. Initiatives like CLOCK are vital because they can help to ensure that the most vulnerable can access justice and assert their human rights.”
Pragna Patel, director, Southall Black Sisters.

"I was recently helped by CLOCK and would just like to say how grateful I was to the service! I have been through the worst 12-18 months of my life and at first I had no help whatsoever. I could not afford a solicitor and there were massive safeguarding issues regarding my ex-partner, who was fighting in court for unsupervised contact.

“CLOCK was really helpful - told me how great I had done so far, helped to make me feel calm and got me in touch with a solicitor. The solicitor tried her hardest to get me the help of Legal Aid, and even offered group therapies to help myself come to terms with things, but unfortunately Legal Aid was denied. CLOCK never gave up and still persisted in getting me the help I needed, and along came the Community Legal Companion.

“Without an organisation like CLOCK and a willing student taking her own time to help, I would have drowned in all the jargon of massive legal words and the overwhelming time I spent in a courtroom!” -
CLOCK service user.


Notes to Editors:

*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.

The Community Legal Outreach Collaboration, Keele, ‘CLOCK’, was developed in 2012 to assist those facing court unrepresented with housing, welfare, family relations and community safety issues in cases where lawyers would have resolved the issues before recent Government changes to civil and family Legal Aid.

The CLOCK service is currently administered by the Keele University Law School, and operates within the Stoke-on-Trent Combined Court Centre, local law firms and charitable organisations assisting housing, welfare, family relations and community safety issues.

CLOCK is a mechanism for Higher Education Institutions to deliver innovative legal education, assist litigants-in-person access legal services, and collate data for social and legal policy research on access to justice.

The CLOCK IT Referral system was developed under the "Higher Education Academy Social Sciences Strategic Project: Supporting the future of legal education"