Short abstracts of the presentations were submitted by many of the speakers in advance of the conference. The titles of those that were submitted are underlined; to view those abstracts, click on the title.

Title: Compasses And Clocks: Clinical Identity And The Litigant In Person

Lead Presenter: Rachel Stalker



Session Abstract: Clinical Legal Education (CLE) was introduced to the UK at a time when public funding was widely available. However, the dramatic changes wrought by the Legal Aid (Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders) Act 2012 since April 2013 mean that the environment in which clinics operate is radically altered. This paper proposes that, in the face of growing numbers of litigants in person (“LiP’s”), clinics should now consider re-calibrating their philosophical compasses in order to orient their programs more closely towards the true north of social justice, rather than simply the grid north of educational achievement. There is ample evidence to show that LiP’s are at a measurable disadvantage in terms of outcomes, compared to represented parties. Nonetheless, by April 2014 75% of civil and family cases involved at least one LiP. Furthermore, LiP’s are increasingly relying on fee-charging McKenzie Friends (lay court assistants), who are not currently regulated. Some do nothing more than disrupt or complicate the court process, whilst others charge their clients more than a solicitor would. Still others even fail to carry out the work they have been engaged to do by their vulnerable client, whilst retaining their fees. Where, then, does this leave university clinics? Many involved in pro bono work, whilst aghast at the growing crisis in our court system, appear uncomfortable about this issue and are reluctant to encourage or train students to undertake court work. Their objections may be practical, relating to staff resources or supervision; ideological, if they consider that clinic’s primary purpose is education; or even political, if they consider that it is not universities’ place to step into the widening justice gap. However, this paper proposes that moving beyond the historical boundaries of CLE and training our students to work in the court room itself would in fact allow CLE to fulfil its true educational potential, as well as achieving greater justice education and access to justice. This paper will detail LJMU’s practical experience of allying with the local judiciary, law firms and Bar to maximise resources for LiP’s, and its participation in Keele University’s pioneering CLOCK scheme to train students as free, court-based McKenzie Friends. Rather than detracting from students’ educational experience, training our students in this way exposes them to current difficulties of access to justice, whilst simultaneously allowing them to be part of the solution. It allows our clinics to become more multi-disciplinary in their approach. Finally, in the longer term, the scheme will allow us to obtain empirical data about a rapidly-developing issue, with a view to conducting research which may have a direct impact on legal practice at a local level and/or public policy more generally.

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See full list of abstracts here.