York law students to support people without legal aid

Outreach scheme aims to ease the pressure on local court

 

A new social justice initiative is launching in York to help vulnerable people who end up representing themselves in court proceedings. The Community Legal Outreach Collaboration Keele (CLOCK) begins at York County Court on Monday 3 February. The first project of its kind in the region, it will provide free support to ‘litigants in person’.  
 
Students and staff of York St John University and the University of York are joining together to offer this community legal companion scheme. They will support people dealing with family separation and child contact arrangements without legal representation.  
 
Chris Smith, Senior Lecturer in Law at York St John University said: “We are delighted to bring this service to York with the help and support of the courts, law firms and local charities. Our students will help the ever-increasing number of people going through family court proceedings on their own, people who cannot afford the services of a solicitor and who are not eligible for legal aid. This service will make a huge difference to people at a very traumatic time in their lives whilst being educationally impactful for our students. It will help them develop as skilled, ethical and empathetic professionals.” 
 
After initial training, 26 students from York St John University and 19 from the University of York will staff a desk at York County Court. From there they will help with paperwork and drafting statements, as well as attending hearings to provide moral support and take notes. They will also help with legal aid applications and signpost people to other services 
 
Sara Boulton, Clinic Solicitor and Lecturer from the University of York said: “York Law School is proud to be part of such a fantastic project as CLOCK. It is a great example of how students can play a role in supporting the local community. Not only does the CLOCK experience educate our students on the workings of a law court, but it also provides them with a real insight into the issues faced by litigants in person. Key to CLOCK’s success is the collaboration between a wide range of partners who have come together to support this cause.”   
 
The York launch comes after the service was successfully established elsewhere in the country, initially in 2012 by the School of Law at Keele University. One anonymous service user said: “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 with full legal representation, for unsupervised contact. 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 court room.” 
 
Philip Hill, York County Court Listings Officer, said: “We deal with a significant number of enquiries so the CLOCK service will help court staff, who are under time pressure, get support to answer many of the questions people have. Assistance with filling in forms will also reduce the error rate, help judges process information and lead to more effective court hearings.”

HHJ Jill Troy, Designated Family Judge for North Yorkshire added: “I see people at a time of high stress and can see the anxiety on their faces. Having someone there to help will make a big difference to their experience at court.” 

The universities will work in collaboration with a number of partners, including: HMCTS, the judiciary, Independent Domestic Abuse Services (IDAS), North Yorkshire Police, Rollitts, Switalskis, Ramsdens, Hethertons, CEDAL & Cafcass and other members of the Domestic Abuse Family Court Working Group. 

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