By Ee Vi Lim
First Year Law Student, JUSTICE Court Observer
Walking down the aisle in a grocery stall, you may see rows and rows of delicacies – but underneath it, there are also rows and rows of price tags. As humans, we appeal to the sense of justice and some of us may often make passionate declarations about societal welfare and our ideas of fairness. Given that, it is easier to think of justice in this abstraction than having to face the practical realities when it comes to its implementation. Though priceless in virtue, justice will inevitably come with a price tag.
As Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights promises, everyone will have the right to a fair trial. Still, access to courts is far from free. For a perspective, a day of hearing in the crown court (which is where criminal offences are usually sent to) already costs £1,200. This is not including legal fees which can go up to £200 per hour for senior lawyers, time off work, and so on. These figures are just for 1 day, or 1 hour, let alone having to compound these for rounds and rounds of appeal.
In the face of a structural issue of this magnitude, I knew that passion alone would not be enough. Hence, I was scouting for a platform and for guidance to effectively make an impact. This is where I met Freedom Law Clinic.
I still remember how 3 months back, I was a new case worker going through my induction training to be familiarised with the landscape of criminal law and the appeal process. This insight helped me to navigate through the system because, not long after, we had to put theory into practice by working hands-on with an actual criminal case involving a serious offence. In groups, we hunted through thousands (yes, literally thousands) of pages of facts and evidence to find materials that would help to support our case.
Initially, the task seems to be overwhelming but I soon realised that we will get nowhere with mere consumption of information. Thankfully, in our supervisions with a lawyer mentor, I have learnt to strategize and develop more efficient approaches to filtering out the materials. When all events are interconnected with each other, it is hard to understand the part without understanding the whole and vice versa. As I dive deeper into the case, the picture seems to be clearer and clearer. I am grateful that this learning experience not only enhanced my fact-distilling skills but also made me appreciate the work behind the condensed judgements that are produced.
Although it sounded obvious, it really struck me when I was working on this real case that the law is dealing with actual human lives. I remember that before coming to law school, a senior told me that to be a good lawyer, it is important to have a sense of responsibility because you are not just dealing with words or essays on papers, but someone’s limbs, or lives, or their life-worth of savings.
Sometimes, however, there is the lingering doubt as to how much can I actually contribute? In the face of a case that has been litigated for more than a decade, a case analysis or the identification of a few strands of facts can seem proportionally small. Thankfully, our lawyer mentor reminded us that no one can solve a complex puzzle like this alone. We are building on top of the work of batches and batches of case workers, as if inching towards the light after the tunnel – it humbled and reassured me indeed.
It is because of this that we journey, case by case, and step by step to offer access to justice to the people in need. If we think about it, each case that we work on would not just affect the life of the person, but also their family, and by extension, the public’s faith in the legal system.