In 2019 Open Justice established the Online Policy Clinic to undertake research on behalf of organisations and charities.
The policy clinic is now 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. The students taking part in the policy clinic are in their final year of their law degree.
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 an abreviated report 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. You can read the report here.
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 blog, Associate Lecturer Gillian Mawdsley writes about the 2021 Environmental Policy Clinic group work.
A blog written by our Policy clinic coordinator Liz Hardie gives further information on the project.
Quotes from students who have been involved in recent policy clinic activities.
I would highly recommend the policy clinic. My participation in the clinic provided me with an unexpected but most welcome opportunity to become curious, explore and understand environmental law, focusing particularly on climate change emergency declarations as part of a UK wide research project. Tutor support has been invaluable. I have also enjoyed working as part of a supportive student team. Finally, I had the opportunity to represent the Open Justice Centre as part of a national meeting with other students across the UK, which was a real privilege. The policy clinic is the hidden gem of W360!