The Open Justice Centre is pleased to present our sixth annual e-festival of public legal education.
During this week, running 5 June - 9 June 2023, we will be presenting legal education activities which have been written and presented by students of the W360 Justice in Action module and other law students.
The Open Justice policy clinic is in its fourth year and continues to grow in terms of the numbers of organisations and students involved in its work each year. Students gain experience of carrying out legal policy and advocacy work for a charitable or third sector organisation or to influence government policy. Students work on a brief provided by an organisation and carry out empirical research to produce analysis and recommendations, which can be used by the organisation to influence their policy work.
22-23 Policy Clinic Projects
During the academic year 22-23 there were four groups working in the policy clinic on different projects.
One group worked on a project for the Royal National Institute for the Blind, a charity supporting those who are blind and partially sighted across the UK. Following changes to the law in Scotland relating to the registration process for those who are blind and partially sighted, the project researched how the registration process is working in practice and whether there should be changes to the way in which the registration service works. An abbreviated copy of their report which explains the methodology used for this project can be found here.
Another group worked on a project for the Scottish Sentencing Council, an independent advisory body which carries out a range of work concerning sentencing in Scotland. The students carried out exploratory research into how the mental health of offenders impacts sentencing in Scotland. This project included a number of fieldwork volunteers attending their local Sheriff Courts to provide data on summary sentencing proceedings. An abbreviated copy of the report explaining the research carried out, can be found here.
A third group carried out a project on behalf of the Bridges Programmes, a specialist Scottish agency supporting the social, educational and economic integration of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in Glasgow. The research focused on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Scotland in order to identify current practice around FGM in Scotland and the current effectiveness of the law in preventing FGM and protecting victims. An abbreviated copy of the report explaining the methods used can be found here.
Finally a fourth group of students built upon research carried out over the past two years on behalf of the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF), a charity which helps the voice of ordinary people and communities to be heard on matters affecting the environment in which they live. This project focused on whether local authorities will be on track to meet their own 2030 net-zero targets, and the report will be available by the end of June 2023. The brief set by ELF, which contains further details on how this work will be carried out, can be found here.
Continued influence of previous years’ projects
A number of projects from previous years have influenced law reform in the last twelve months, and we are delighted that our students’ work has impacted proposed changes to the law.
In 20-21 a group of students undertook a project researching the cost of civil weddings, and their report was forwarded to the Law Commission’s project ‘Weddings’. In July 2022 the Law Commission proposed reforms to the law relating to where and how couples can get married, to provide simpler, more affordable and personalised weddings. This addressed some of the recommendations in the policy clinic report regarding unjustified differences in costs of civil registry office weddings across the country.
In 21-22 a policy clinic project, run jointly with Northumbria University, proposed reforms to the law on renting property to tenants with pets. This research was carried out on behalf of the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS). The Renters Reform Bill 2023 was introduced into Parliament in May 2023, which will make it easier for tenants to keep pets. Tenants will have the right to request a pet and pet insurance will be permitted (which was one of the recommendations of the report).
Finally in 21-22 one of the policy clinic projects (again run jointly with Northumbria University) researched the impact of COVID-19 and the move to online court hearings on the public’s access to court hearing. The government announced an open consultation ‘Open Justice: the Way Forward’ in May 2023, and the analysis and recommendations from the policy clinic report will be used to respond to the consultation.
In this section, our W360 students reflect on their experiences of working on projects this past year.
In this blog, Darren Lampert reflects on his work at Citizens Advice.
In this blog, Danielle Butler reflects on her work in the Open Justice Law Clinic.
In this blog, Kathryn Der Gregorian reflects on her work in the International Project.
In this blog, Daniel Munt reflects on his work in the Criminal Justice Clinic.
In this blog, Sophie Perks reflects on her work in the Mediation Project.
In this blog, Marguerite Elena Kidd reflects on her work in the Policy Clinic.
Blogs from other students will be posted weekly on our blog during July and August 2023 so be sure to access it or subscribe for regular notifications.
For the International Law Project students undertake a piece of practical legal work with an international focus, covering topics such as international human rights law and / or international humanitarian law. It includes legal work to assist international non-governmental organisations, communities or groups of individuals.
This year the students focused on the current situation in Ukraine and international humanitarian law, looking in particular at the deportation and transfer of protected persons. Examples of two reports are available to view below.
This report highlights the forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia to ascertain State Practice. Focussing on what the international community are saying about the ‘re-education’ centres, fast-tracked adoptions, and the potential re-nationalising of Ukrainian children by Russian forces and their agents.
This report sets out allegations of the deportation and transfer of protected persons from areas occupied by the Russian Federation, in breach of international humanitarian law, during the course of the current armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Mediation provides an effective and non-adversarial form of dispute resolution which is increasingly recognised and encouraged within the UK justice system. Students working on the Open Justice mediation project were given the opportunity to undertake training in mediation and to understand how mediation skills, typically used in a face to face context, can be adapted to enable mediation in an online context.
During the project our students undertook a variety of role play exercises, ending with a simulated online employment law mediation where other students and alumni played the roles of a disgruntled employee and a HR adviser. Feedback from the clients praised the active listening skills of the mediators and their ability manage conflict – for example: ‘the mediators ensured each person had time to listen and speak’ and ‘[the mediators] showing respect to each other […] set the tone for the meeting and how it should be conducted.’
As part of the project the students drafted an information leaflet introducing their mediation services to potential clients. Below are two examples of these leaflets.
Street Law provides opportunities for OU law students and academics to engage with their communities through providing public legal education opportunities in schools and community groups. This year we were involved in two Street Law projects.
St Giles Trust SOS+
In the first project we teamed up with St Giles Trust's SOS+ project which delivers preventative and early intervention work to children and young people; as well as training for parents and professionals in educational and community settings.
The project included three tasks and involved updating, and producing resources for SOS+ to use when delivering sessions on Joint Enterprise/Conspiracy, Child Sexual Exploitation and Stop and Search.
Student Amy Klosek wrote in her recent blog that her group "were tasked with researching the client, and the law to produce a flyer from scratch to be used to educate secondary school children and their parents about their rights and police powers. We did this by consolidating the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 into something age appropriate and neurodiverse. It’s something that I am so proud to have been part of". You can view the flyer at the link below.
Another group produced a presentation on Joint Enterprise which can be viewed at the link below.
Migrant rights with ATU
Our second Street Law project aimed to raise awareness in relation to migrant rights and was delivered to 150 secondary school pupils in Ireland in collaboration with ATU (Atlantic Technological University).
Amy Klosek on behalf of OU/ Open Justice delivered an online session entitled “Should I stay, or Should I go ( or go to to Rwanda)? which involved using Gary Lineker’s tweet and MOTD theme tune to introduce and debate the Illegal Migration Bill.
This led to a student debate and mini mock trial which was overseen by members of the local intercultural platform. The picture below shows how engaged the pupils were in the workshop which involved music, art, debate and a mini mock trial.
The following comment from Paul Kernan CEO of Donegal Intercultural Platform sums up the value of this street law workshop:
‘The Street Law project makes a valuable contribution to challenges and responses to the greater inclusion of migrants and an understanding of the opportunities afforded by a more diverse population’.
The two-hour session, which was delivered three times over several days, received excellent feedback from the pupils and teachers with expressions such as “understanding”, “empathy” and “interesting” used to describe how the 16-year-old pupils felt about participating in the street law workshop. When asked to note one word which summed up their feelings on asylum seekers and refugees, the word “people” was the most common one used by the pupils at the end of the session. That sums up the essence of the street law workshop.