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Open Justice Awards 2020 individual winners

Olivia Leeper

Olivia Leeper and Heidi Key are the joint winners of the ‘Outstanding individual contribution to Open Justice’, with Neil Burlinson as runner-up in this year’s awards.

Joint winner – Olivia Leeper

Olivia took part in the Freedom Law Clinic (FLC) project and has been offered a training contract in a law firm in Norfolk. After obtaining an MA in English Literature in 2004, she worked in publishing and the voluntary sector before studying for the LLB while raising her three children. 

She said: “I was excited about the Open Justice course for both the practical exposure to different elements of the world of law; and also because it gave me the opportunity to contribute towards social justice by providing advice and support for those who were unable to access it through other means. What I did not anticipate was how incredibly helpful the activities would be for my personal development. The skills I have learnt have not only given me a much-needed boost of confidence but I have also gained insight into where my skills lie. This has been invaluable when applying for training contracts. I loved studying for my LLB with The Open University, and for me, Open Justice can best be described as the icing on the cake.”

She was nominated by her tutor Arj Arul who added: “Olivia made consistently strong, supportive and valid contributions towards all the team discussions during her FLC work. The FLC provided specific feedback that her substantive contribution raised a novel point and was insightful. She demonstrated in her work all the hallmarks of a qualified practitioner. Her W360 Justice in Action work was consistently at distinction level.

Joint winner – Heidi Key 

Heidi also took part in a group project with the Freedom Law Clinic (FLC) in which Open Justice students worked in small groups to assist in the process of advising clients on the prospects of appealing their case to the Criminal Case Review Commission. The FLC assists clients with investigating whether there are grounds to appeal against their conviction and/or sentence. Students assist the FLC with a variety of tasks including researching and preparing legal arguments on an appeal.

She said: “This opportunity changed my life. I had a great team and tutor that helped boost my confidence, giving me the ability to make the most of the skills I had and work on new skills. I worked with the FLC on a complex criminal case which I thoroughly enjoyed; I have also been accepted to further work with the FLC. This experience has resulted in my growth as a person and professionally. I intend to go into pro bono work in the future.”

Tutor Gillian Mawdsley who nominated Heidi for this award, added: “Her development in an individual and team capacity was outstanding. Heidi used a microphone for the first time ever as a student in a January meeting; from then, she went on to chair all the concluding meetings. She led her team in a number of non-academic ways including developing a virtual coffee morning to support each other and used the Tutor Group Forum to post substantially on reflection.

“Heidi shone in developing confidence and found leadership skills within the team where feedback was received on how much she was appreciated and had been a real team leader. She epitomises for me what ‘open justice’ and being a lawyer is. This award demonstrates just how far her journey has taken her in a remarkable development, showing me that she would make an excellent lawyer"

Runner-up – Neil Burlinson

Neil Burlinson

Neil took part in a group project visiting HMP Send in Surrey. These prison projects involve the students researching general legal topics relevant to prisoners, followed by presentations either in person or over prison radio.

He said: “W360 Justice in Action was a great opportunity to put some legal skills into practice, helping others while also helping myself. It allowed me to develop and apply existing skills in a very different environment to what I am used to, meeting and learning from some interesting people.”

Neil’s tutor Kate Ritchie nominated him and added: “Neil made an outstanding contribution to the prison project at HMP Send from start to finish – he had clear insight into the objectives and potential benefits, while at the same time, having a realistic appreciation of some of the challenges. He was always well prepared at planning meetings and exhibited natural leadership capability in his capacity to inspire and mobilise the rest of the team, with excellent communication skills.

“The activities he devised were imaginative and engaging and the feedback from the St Giles Trust and his fellow group members confirmed that these were very well received by the peer advisors. In the first session, Neil’s quick thinking ensured that the session didn’t flounder when the team ran out of activities. I would say that his input was significant overall in ensuring the success of this particular project.”

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