Next in the student blog series where our recent graduates share how their understanding of the value of pro bono legal work has developed in light of their participation in the Open Justice activities of the past year. This blog is by former 'Justice in action' student Kirstie Jackson who worked on an animal rights policy project.
With the end of the academic year approaching, it is important to reflect on what you have gained through the experience and whether you view a subject differently. I have participated in an Open Justice Policy Clinic project that has looked at animal rights and problems faced by landlords when renting to tenants with pets.
When I look back on my thoughts at the beginning of the project, I was naïve in thinking there was any issues? Is there an injustice faced by landlords? ‘Is there a real need for pro bono with regards to renting to tenants with pets?’ (Jackson, 2021a)
Whilst reading through landlord responses to a survey we had designed and sent out, I quickly realised my question had been answered. Yes, there is a need. However, not a need for landlords but for the pet-owners. A social need whereby individuals are being discriminated against and refused housing due to their love of animals and wanting of a pet.
Arguably, where there is a social need there is likely to be a social injustice occurring. Social justice is the fair and equal distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within society (The Open University (‘OU’), 2021, 3). Under Rawls approach, as highlighted by Miller, some benefits such as housing are divided on a need basis (Miller, 2003, p.87). The need for pet-friendly accommodation would fall under this category and being refused is a social injustice. You may find yourself asking, how? Discrimination is at play here. Pet owners are being provided with very little housing opportunities in comparison to non-pet owners. One woman’s search to find a landlord that accepted her dog is evidence of this. Her Zoopla search saw 352 properties reduced to 6 when the filter ‘pets allowed’ was applied (LetswithPets, 2022). This shows a clear disadvantage for pet-owners and highlights a social need for pet-friendly accommodation to be made more readily available.
From my participation in this project, I feel I am better equipped and more determined to help those facing legal issues. After all, that is what pro bono is about, using your knowledge to make a difference with the added benefit of the ‘feel good factor’ that is felt when helping those in need. Whilst undertaking interviews with participating landlords I developed greater communication skills. During this task landlords were asked questions based on their survey responses to gain a deeper understanding of the issues they faced when renting to tenants with pets. I found myself having to be sympathetic in my questioning of the landlords to obtain as much information as I could despite feeling that the injustice is faced by the pet-owners.
My researching skills have also improved during my involvement in composing and editing a literature review around the subject of renting to tenants with pets. It was during this task that I realised there is a social injustice faced by pet-owners.
I was made aware of the case of John Chadwick, someone who felt that the only way to get over having to give up his pets, due to a ‘no-pet’ clause in his tenancy agreement, was to take his own life (Sandiford, 2021). An equally immoral case of Thomas-Ashley v Drum Housing Association Ltd (1), saw a woman with bipolar disorder being told that legislative interpretation could not be stretched to help her in her fight to keep her pets who were important for her mental stability. She was left having to face, what is arguably a fate worse than death, in being in mental anguish and trapped in her own thoughts. I found myself asking ‘is this fair?’ (Jackson, 2021b)
It is not fair or just on a moral and legal stance. It is morally wrong to place people in such a dilemma that leads to them taking their own life or having to face tormenting thoughts. From a legal perspective, allowing this social injustice to occur brings into question whether the rule of law is really being upheld.
I want to be part of the change and remove these barriers to social justice, to be the voice for people like John. This passion would not have been imparted to me had I not participated in the Open Justice project. I take forward an enriched understanding of why pro bono activities are important and intend to make it a constant feature in my footpath to becoming a mental health solicitor.
Reference List ( please note that some of these references may not be publicly accessible)
The Open University (2021) W360 Unit 1: Pro bono and access to justice [Online]. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1811565 (Accessed 19th April 2022)
Miller, D. (2013) ‘Justice’ in Political Philosophy: a Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2003; Very Short Introductions online, Sept. 2013) [Online]. Available at http://dx.doi.org.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/10.1093/actrade/9780192803955.003.0005 (Accessed 19th April 2022).
Sandiford, J. (2021) ‘Jasmines Law: The fight goes on to stop cruel no pets clauses for tenants’ Available at: https://www.bigissue.com/news/housing/jasmines-law-fight-goes-on-to-stop-cruel-no-pets-clauses-for-tenants Accessed 12th February 2022
LetswithPets (2022) ’Hear about one tenant’s search for a pet-friendly property’ Available at https://www.letswithpets.org.uk/find-a-pet-friendly-property/case-study Accessed 12th February 2022
Thomas-Ashley v Drum Housing Association Ltd  EWCA Civ 26
Jackson, K. (2021a) ‘Extract 1’, originally written 7th November 2021.
Jackson, K. (2021b) ‘Extract 2’, originally written 12th January 2022.
(1)Thomas-Ashley v Drum Housing Association Ltd  EWCA Civ 26