By Shawn Perrie, Sheffield Hallam Law Student
The Law Society of England and Wales reported in 2019 that significant changes to the legal aid regime, introduced several year ago, via the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, have resulted in legal aid not being available to many who need it. Immediately prior to her retirement, the former president of the UK Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond, also expressed concerns about the reduction in recourse to the justice system in England and Wales. Given this backdrop, the demand for pro bono legal work has increased substantially and has played an important role in recent years in bridging the access to justice gap.
Whilst many who are not familiar with pro bono legal work may be of the opinion that such work is carried out purely by employees of law firms, arguably, Law students from across the UK are among those who also make a substantial contribution towards pro bono legal work. Such contributions made by Law students from Sheffield Hallam University, through its very own law firm – SHU Law, have been a subject of praise by many, including members of the judiciary, such as the Honourable Mr. Justice Matthew Nicklin, Justice of the High Court and His Honour Judge Graham Robinson, Designated Civil Judge for South Yorkshire, during their visits to SHU Law.
At SHU Law, which provides legal services to meet the needs of those who cannot afford to pay for legal advice, Law students contribute to pro bono legal work relating to many areas of law, including employment, personal njury, small claims, criminal appeals and prisoners’ rights, under the supervision of qualified solicitors. The contributions made by students include, conducting legal research, drafting documents and carrying out administrative as well as client care tasks, to name a few.
In addition to the above, Law students from Sheffield Hallam University, play an active role in providing emotional support to litigants in person as well as assisting them with tasks such as completing court documents and drafting their arguments coherently, through their involvement with the Support Through Court charity. As part of their contribution towards pro bono legal work, students, in collaboration with SHU Law, have also conducted Public Legal Education campaigns in the past, to enhance legal awareness among the general public.
In light of the unprecedented circumstances arising from the of COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth mentioning that even challenges relating to COVID-19 have not prevented Law students from Sheffield Hallam University from contributing towards pro bono legal work. Students continue to connect with SHU Law remotely and perform the tasks required of them diligently, thereby enhancing access to justice for those who need it most, at a time of greater need.
In light of the above, Law students from Sheffield Hallam University as well as their counterparts from other universities who contribute towards pro bono legal work can certainly be proud of their role in enhancing access to justice.