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Student Law Office project in line for social justice accolade

21st April 2015

A pro bono legal advice scheme, led by Northumbria University students in partnership with a North East law firm, has been shortlisted for a prestigious legal empowerment honour.

The Legal Advice Byker project – run by the university’s Student Law Office alongside Ben Hoare Bell LLP – is in contention for the inaugural Namati Justice Prize.

The accolade recognises ‘grassroots’ justice and legal empowerment projects, and great deeds in legal empowerment, which give people the power to understand and use the law to secure justice and meet basic needs.

Legal Advice Byker provides legal advice and guidance to disadvantaged individuals and families across the Byker area. Since its inception in 2012, it has offered its support to almost 100 vulnerable members of the community – a large number of whom would not normally have access to legal advice elsewhere.

Carol Boothby, director of the Student Law Office, said: “Legal Advice Byker is an innovative community initiative designed to empower those who are most disadvantaged in our society.

“We are immensely proud that our work bridges a gap by providing vulnerable people with valuable assistance.”

Legal Advice Byker was set up in response the demand for pro bono legal advice, which in many areas has increased in response to changes in the legal aid system following the enforcement of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012). The Act significantly reduced access to legal aid across a number of areas of law and this affected the most vulnerable members of the public.

Clients are advised by students under the close supervision of qualified solicitors from Northumbria University and Ben Hoare Bell LLP. Running for 10 weeks of the year, participation in the clinic is an option for students on the one year post graduate Legal Practice course.

To qualify as a finalist, Namati Justice Prize judges will be looking for projects that have had an extraordinary impact on people’s lives, that have the potential to grow in scale, and that deliver justice in the face of great difficulties. 

The prize is open to individuals, non-profit organisations and social enterprises, and specific projects that are part of an organisation’s overall work.

Carol added: “We are delivering an initial advice service across a range of legal areas where there has been a reduction in legal aid provision, such as child contact and family issues, as well as housing and other disputes.

“Legal Advice Byker has really captured the imagination of the community – it’s a service for people who believe they have no power or means to address their legal issue and who feel they have nowhere else to go.

“We would be delighted to be finalists – but our main aim is for Legal Advice Byker to continue to grow and develop to carry out its vital work in the community.”

Cris McCurley, head of the international family department at Ben Hoare Bell and lead partner for the Legal Advice Byker project, said: “It has been a great experience for Ben Hoare Bell to join with the students from the Student Law Office in this joint venture.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with such enthusiastic students and the clients have really benefitted, as have the Ben Hoare Bell mentors.”

This comes hot on the heels of the news that the Student Law Office has also been shortlisted in the Pro Bono/Community Initiative category at The Northern Law Awards 2015. It is up against some of the biggest law firms in the North East and the winner will be announced at the event in June. Last year, the Student Law Office was also awarded the highly prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize.


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