Above: Emma Goodwin, Pro Bono Director at Manchester Law School at Manchester Metropolitan University; Samantha Mayer, student; Giles Elliott, Greater Manchester Law Centre supervising caseworker; Ciara Bartlam, student.
As part of the Greater Manchester Law Centre’s (GMLC) Pro Bono Legal Advocacy Support Project [LASP] students from the Manchester Law School represent clients at appeal hearings, who are due to have their Employment and Support Allowance reduced by the Department of Work and Pensions.
The project affords students with a unique opportunity to put into practice the knowledge and skills they have acquired during their studies and have been able to represent clients prior to becoming qualified.
As a result of the project, GMLC’s students have successfully won a reversal of the Department’s decision in four out of four cases, meaning the clients will continue to receive their benefits.
Representation despite cuts to legal aid
Emma Goodwin, Pro Bono Director at Manchester Law School, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) stated: “In the majority of pro bono work that law students can do, they don’t actually get to represent clients in court or tribunals but rather mainly conduct interviews and research. On this project, students spend many hours on the client’s case, do all the preparation, liaise with the client and then take the case to the tribunal, representing them in person before a judge. Legal aid for these types of cases has been withdrawn and so clients would normally have had to represent themselves, some may not be able to do this properly, and without the help of our students, it is likely many more would simply have to live with the wrong decision.”
Theory into practice
Samantha Mayer, student at the GMLC expressed: “Being part of the LASP scheme at Greater Manchester Law Centre has been an amazing experience, which has enabled me to put theory into practice almost immediately, by taking on work that really makes a difference to people at a very difficult time in their lives. Getting to do all aspects of the case from meeting clients, to legal research to appearing at a tribunal means you get to know a case and the client. I was so nervous the day before the tribunal, I knew that either way the decision would have a massive impact on my client’s life and I wanted to be sure that I had done everything possible to ensure a good outcome for her. When we found out we had won the case, I almost burst into tears.”
I was shown compassion
Samantha’s client, Jannah Murphy stated: “The support and assistance that I received from Sam Mayer and the team gave me reassurance and made me feel like a real person. When I contacted the Law Centre I was at the lowest I had ever been due to my health deteriorating and financial stress. I was shown compassion and Sam completed all the relevant paperwork and put my case together, taking more strain off my shoulders. Without them I would not have known where to turn or how to move forward with my tribunal. It is an absolutely amazing service.”
A pleasure and a privilege
Whilst, GMLC’s Giles Elliott, supervising caseworker, stated: “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with the students from the School of Law. Their ability to quickly grasp the details of what for them, is a new area of law has been impressive, as is the quality of the work they have undertaken on behalf of our clients. They bring a high level of dedication and commitment to their work which is, I know grounded in their empathy for our clients, and a determination to help those clients overturn extraordinarily unjust decisions. Coming from the outside the world of social welfare law, they have brought fresh eyes to aspects of cases that we have come to accept as the norm. Their presence at the Law Centre has changed client’s lives and enriched the work of the Law Centre.”
Here is the story as covered by the MMU.