Posted Wednesday 27 March 2013
A centre based at Kingston University which provides free legal advice to people living in the surrounding area is taking on an increasing number of cases as cuts to legal aid loom.
Kingston Law School's Community Legal Advice Centre, launched in September 2012, is dedicated to providing free legal advice to individuals, charities, businesses and community groups from Kingston and the surrounding areas.
Legal aid will be restricted in a range of civil cases from 1 April to cut a current £2 billion public legal bill. This means an estimated 500,000 people could lose access to free legal support.
"At a time when Government cuts are reducing the amount of affordable legal advice available, the centre provides a valuable service to the local community as well as considerable professional benefits to our students," Centre supervisor and PhD researcher Robert Sugden said. The reductions were set to reduce support in a number of areas - including social welfare, employment and family matters, he explained. "This is free extra help and initiatives like this will become vital in the future as the cuts to legal aid take hold."
A team of 20 Kingston law degree students, who were selected in a competitive process, interview clients to establish an understanding of their predicament before researching and drafting a letter that provides advice on how the client should proceed. Throughout this process they liaise closely with a small number of local solicitors to increase their knowledge and make sure the advice they give is correct.
The advisers, mostly third year LLB law degree students, see clients on Tuesday evenings at the Centre based in modern offices at the University's business school. The Centre is being paid for by a grant from a special university alumni fund and a donation from a law school alumnus.
Third year law degree student Liz Fisher said being a volunteer adviser was proving extremely helpful for her in a climate where accumulating real life legal work experience was becoming increasingly difficult. "Being a part of the Kingston University Legal Advice Centre has been a truly invaluable experience," she said. "I have had the chance to interview actual clients and then research the law and advise accordingly, developing real skills which are appealing to employers. I feel very privileged to have had such an amazing opportunity."
Since November the students have taken on a total of 20 cases, with an additional two coming in each week. The subject matter has ranged from rogue builders, landlord and tenant disputes, employment disputes, family matters and financial mis-selling. Most cases to date have come from local residents in the Kingston, Roehampton Vale and Surbiton areas.
The Centre provided advice to Kingston landlord Eric Engle on the choices available to him to manage a dispute with a tenant who absconded owing him money. "I can vouch for the value of involving students in real problems and not just textbook situations," he said. "I found the students very helpful and the people who interviewed me were both professional and supportive."
Pictured below: Students Rado Lagoda (left) and Isha-Lee Samani take part in the Legal Advice Centre.