I was fortunate enough to attend the SHU Law Accessing Justice Conference on 30th November 2022.
The conference started with an opening lecture from three key SHU Law figures: Professor Liz Smart (Head of Law), Sally Ayres (Head of SHU Law) and Raj Mawji (Criminal Appeals Solicitor). They talked about SHU Law in relation to some of the cases they have dealt with and how lives have been saved as a result of the work SHU Law has done. Raj talked about cases of people who were incarcerated but were innocent and went into detail about the appeals process and how the information needed for the appeal was gathered, I particularly remember it being mentioned that the police did not gather vital employment information of the suspect to show that it was not them who committed that crime and how the system failed them. It was educational to hear first hand from somebody who actually worked on the case, rather than a case report on a law site.
We had the option of choosing two breakout sessions. My first breakout was Resolving Conflict Through Mediation. I chose this one as I thought it resonated with me the most as someone who is interested in finding solutions to conflicts. This was delivered by Melvin Lyons from MESH and Ruth Dawson from SHU Law. This session was a fun interactive one as we had to discuss what we thought the outcome of the case and how the conflict was resolved which challenged us to use our pre-existing knowledge and come up with the most likely solution.
My second breakout room was Advocacy for Justice. This was presented by Caldun Harris (my trusts and equitable wrongs tutor) and a group of final year advocacy students. It was very interesting to see the module brought to life and it was impressive to see the students act out a court scenario. It was fascinating also to hear from Judge Graham Robinson and Judge Siobhan Kelly in how the cross-examination process plays out in court, especially in regard to avoiding leading questions and potentially ambiguous questions.
We ended with a lecture by Judge Robinson and later followed by questions accompanied by his wife Judge Kelly. They talked about how unique SHU Law is and how enviable the law firm is to many other places around the country with how many people have benefitted from it directly following the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). They then answered questions particularly focusing on the impact that the covid pandemic has had on the court systems and how they now run. They discussed how in one respect it has allowed the Courts to clear some of the backlog by hosting hearings online which clears up court’s space and time to deal with other more complicated matters. However, a detriment is how most of the courts have very outdated systems making it difficult to then work online and how some Judges struggle with the technology and much prefer to have the physical case facts with their own notes and highlighted sections which was interesting to hear about.
Overall, the evening was very enjoyable and I was able to see a further example how SHU Law is helping me with my studies. It was also useful to learn more about some cases and how the court systems operate.
By Emily Ward – Level 5 Law Student at Sheffield Hallam University