A Treasure Hunt with Freedom Law Clinic

By Ee Vi Lim, First Year LLB Student, Freedom Law Clinic Case Worker

 

As a child, I was amused by the idea of finding something by surprise in a pile of soil or sand. I guess this explorer mindset have not left me as it was rekindled when I ventured on the journey with Freedom Law Clinic (FLC). This time, it is not to find a bottle or a seashell but to find a piece, or fact, that may or may not hold the power of overturning a convict’s life. As I shared in my previous blog post, access to justice comes at a hefty price. Hence, the search that FLC is putting us on is one that gives an actual human being the opportunity to be righted, if needs be.

That said, with folders and folders of evidence, I find myself in a sandbox that is larger than anything that I have seen before. The student caseworkers and I were tasked to source evidence against a particular conviction for a serious criminal case. Honestly, the hardest part is to find a way to start because initially, I was like a wanderer, floating by the stack of papers in search of a direction. As a Law student, I have the habit of going into a legal judgement to search for answers. Having been trained to look for the binding ratio decidendi, this training which requires me to question and to doubt the judgement proves to be something unique.

In an archetypal detective movie, one would imagine an office with sheets of paper evidence lying around the table, waiting to be picked up by the eagle-eyed detective for scrutiny. My case was similar, but slightly modernised. I found myself sitting in front of a multi-tabbed window cramped on a multi-window screen as I try to mentally piece everything together. I can remember the one time when I had my eye on two pieces of evidence that didn’t seem to click in my head. Initially, I thought it was just because I myself couldn’t comprehend it. It was not until the supervision session with my lawyer mentor that I came to appreciate that if something seems to be inconsistent, it could be the case that it actually is.

If I could only say one thing that draws Freedom Law Clinic apart, it would have to be how committed it is to developing young caseworkers like us. From the comprehensive e-learning resources to the weekly touch points with an actual criminal lawyer, I am thankful to have grown to be more confident in my own legal analysis. For a novice caseworker like me, it is not easy to discern whether I am being merely confused or I have managed to spot significant incoherence in the facts. Over the weeks of feedback, the line between the two seems to become clearer. Thinking back to the early days of my Law degree, digesting case facts could be quite overwhelming but because of FLC, I can now see facts in chronological sequences, and map out the web of relationships between parties. The impact of this programme on me, and for the other participants alike, is something that we can carry with us wherever we go – whether it is a mock trial competition in university or fighting for justice in important cases down the road. I was told that in Freedom Law Clinic, they pioneer legal education that changes the world; now that I have experienced it for myself, I know that it is true.

When I started out on this journey, in search for a treasure, I did not expect that I would walk out of it finding that the most valuable learnings are ingrained in myself.

A Step At A Time – with Freedom Legal Clinic

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.

Seeing Justice with JUSTICE

By Ee Vi Lim

First Year Law Student, JUSTICE Court Observer

 

It is a Friday – like everyone else, I pack up my stuff after lectures, but unlike everyone else, I make my journey to a Magistrates’ Court, ready to start my work as a JUSTICE court observer. On the bus ride there, I always think to myself – “so, what will I see today?”

For Year 1 students like me who have just started to dive into the ink of law on paper, I am grateful that my learnings have not been confined to a viewpoint that is remote from the reality. Because of JUSTICE, I am here now – in a court room – listening to the fate of people who are accused of harassment, violence, misbehaviors and so on being pronounced right before me.

Before coming to Law school, I have read about how the magistrates, who are lay people trained to hear cases in the lower courts, form the backbone of the English Legal System. The practical importance of magistrates is evident as they hear about 95% of all criminal cases, and their constitutional significance dates back to the Magna Carta 1215 which sets the foundational stone that no man shall be convicted except “by the lawful judgement of his equals”. Hence, it is no doubt that the lay representations on the Magistrate’s benches are vital to the doing of justice.

However, reading about something is one thing but experiencing it is another. Having travelled half the globe from my home to live in the English legal system that I have been reading on, I wanted to get an insider view on things for myself. Hence, when the human rights group, JUSTICE was recruiting for court observers, I immediately jumped on the opportunity knowing that this programme would bring me closer to the people behind the names, and the process before the decisions. As a court observer, I am tasked to gather data about the hearings, and so after I reach the courts, I will sit myself down in the public benches, pull out my sheets of observation log and start noting down the information – describing the people who are making the decision, listening to the reasoning that they rely on, observing whether or not the parties are being well represented and so on.

My area of research is centered on bail decisions as to whether or not the accused who is yet to be found guilty can be released into society as they wait for trial or whether they have to be locked up in custody. This makes the difference between being locked up in custody or being trusted to go back into society before being summoned to trials. As the famous saying goes, a man (or a woman) will be innocent until proven guilty; but at the same time, can we afford to bank against societal safety? This is the balance that the magistrates have to navigate through.

Although courts are theoretically adversarial in nature, one thing that really struck me is how collaborative the process can sometimes be. In some cases, the probation officers are consulted, the parties are represented, and the law is cited. Then, the courtroom seems to me like an effective platform where stakeholders can converse and work towards an equilibrium. One of the most memorable moments to me was when a judge kindly addressed the defendant with “sir” and explained him that it is in his best interest to follow the bail conditions, lest he will be put back into jail. The defendant then nodded understandingly. To many, this scene may not be anything special, but the respect proved to me, at least, that we can truly live through the principle that no one will be innocent until proven guilty.

It is these moments of seeing the abstract concept of justice being put into practice that makes the routine of travelling to court, waiting for cases to be summoned, and sitting in the public bench that tiny bit more special.

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt 7 (JLAP Interviews)

Sir James Michael Dingemans

Interviewed by Sahana Karthik 

Sir James Michael Dingemans, styled The Rt Hon Lord Justice Dingemans, is a Court of Appeal judge, who was recently appointed as the lead judge for International Relations with effect from 26 February 2021. He was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2019, has been the Vice President of the Queen’s Bench Division since February 2020 and previously served as a High Court judge. Having grown up as a naval child and residing in a multitude of countries such as Singapore, Gibraltar and Scotland, his Lordship stresses the imperative nature of a global perspective.

Continue reading “A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt 7 (JLAP Interviews)”

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt. 6 (JLAP Interviews)

Zaki Sarraf
Interviewed by Majd Mansour and Sahana Karthik
Zaki Sarraf began his career as a paralegal at Descartes Solicitors before securing a competitive internship as a Legal Protection Caseworker with the United Nations Refugee Agency. He then moved on to work as a Legal Advisor for St Andrew’s Refugee Services and as a Senior Caseworker for Duncan Lewis Solicitors, specialising in Public Law and Human Rights.

Continue reading “A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt. 6 (JLAP Interviews)”

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.5 (JLAP Interviews)

Amanda Pinto 

Interviewed by Emilia Kechagia and Brendon Yik 

Amanda Pinto QC is an expert barrister in international financial wrongdoing, corporate crime, fraud, money laundering, and corruption cases with an international dimension. She was appointed a QC in 2006. She is highly ranked by directories in both’ Financial Crime: Corporates’ and ‘Financial Crime’.

Continue reading “A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.5 (JLAP Interviews)”

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.4 (JLAP Interviews)

Nic Madge
Interviewed By Sahana Karthik and Majd Mansour 
His Honour Nic Madge started off his illustrious career as a human rights lawyer before transitioning into a more judicial role. He became a successful district judge before moving on to become a circuit judge, trying criminal cases that involved serious and highly emotional offences. As a judge, he became a member of the Judicial Studies Board as a senior judicial trainer, both in the UK and abroad.
He has given lectures on a range of legal topics all over the world, including at international conferences in France, Belgium and Ireland. He has trained judges in Malta and drafted legal guidelines for Rwanda. He also participated in Human Rights Missions to Ankara with Amnesty International and to Mexico with FIDH.

Continue reading “A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.4 (JLAP Interviews)”

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.3 (JLAP Interviews)

James Harper

Interviewed by Sahana Karthik

James is currently the Legal Director of Global Projects for LexisNexis, a prominent global provider of legal, government and business information sources. He is also the Executive Sponsor of their Rule of Law and Corporate Social Responsibility projects and has previously referred to the rule of law as being the ‘cornerstone’ of his career.

He has previously received training for mental health in the workplace and is a huge advocate of mental wellbeing amongst those in the corporate sphere. James works very closely with the International Law Book Facility on Rule of Law projects. 

He acknowledges and has previously personally experienced feelings of imposter syndrome (even as an established lawyer) and speaks to how he had tackled this issue. As he is a strong proponent of access to legal advice and education, he believes that students should develop this passion for the rule of law and involve themselves in such projects at university and further into their career.

Outside of his legal career, he is also an avid football player and an FA Level 1 Football Coach who trains his son’s football team.

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.2 (JLAP Interviews)

 Walker Syachalinga 

Interviewed by Brendon Yik 

Walker began his successful career at the University of Kent where he studied an undergraduate degree in law, alongside a volunteer role at the Kent Law Clinic which played a key role in his career progression. After passing the Bar Professional Training Course, he embarked on a Master of Laws course in International Law at UCL, which equipped him with the knowledge he still uses today to help those who have been victims of various human rights abuses and corporate injustices around the world.

Walker undertook a three month internship with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, where his work involved examining areas like abortion rights in Latin America and the rights of the LGBT community in parts of Africa.

He is a huge advocate of pro-bono work, and encourages students to search for pro-bono opportunities not only locally but on an international level too in order to gain a more global perspective on socio-political issues. He says that undertaking pro-bono work can enhance one’s cultural awareness as well as enrich your knowledge of the law in a way that cannot be taught in textbooks and classrooms.

Walker is currently a paralegal in the International & Group Claims department at Leigh Day, a firm dedicated to increasing access to justice for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. He recently assisted on a case that secured a settlement for 2,500 Zambian villagers in an environmental pollution claim against a UK-based mining company. The settlement followed a landmark Supreme Court decision (Lungowe v Vedanta Resources plc [2019] UKSC 20) which widened access to justice in the English courts in business and human rights cases. Walker is set to train as a solicitor at Leigh Day from September 2021.

A Series: Public Interest Careers Pt.1 (JLAP Interviews)

Pascale Bird 

Interviewed by Sahana Karthik and Brendon Yik 

Pascale began her illustrious legal career in Brussels, studying Law there before embarking on a Master of Laws Course at LSE in International Business Law. She then joined Simmons & Simmons as an associate in the EU and Competition Law department, advising on EU and UK regulatory issues as well as EU and UK merger control.

After a short career break, she decided to continue with her studies, moving away from the private sphere, and embarked on a further Masters Course in Geopolitics Territory Security at Kings College London, which propelled her into a volunteer role with Oxfam where her work involved managing the publication and editing of a book – ‘Climate Change Liability – Transnational Law and Practice.’

Her role at Lawyers Against Poverty since has involved the oversight and management of the Twinning Project, an initiative that establishes links between UK lawyers and lawyers in developing countries. This involves promoting justice within areas including domestic violence, the rights of disabled people and the rights of married women in differing parts of the world. She also works at Legal Response International, an organisation that provides free legal support to those in countries that are particularly susceptible to climate change’s impacts, as well as aiding these countries in their efforts to implement the Paris Climate Agreement.

Pascale is an avid supporter of pro-bono work, regardless of which industry students decide to pursue and believes everyone can play a part in making the world a slightly better place with their knowledge and privilege.

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