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One thing that every legal practitioner can agree on is that access to justice is a fundamental principle to the rule of law. Legal aid has been a saving grace for many who cannot afford legal representation. However, what do you do if you cannot afford a lawyer and do not qualify for legal aid? The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) was introduced in 2012 after pressure on the Ministry of Justice forced the department to look at the budget. The changes to the budget were estimated to help save around £350 million per year but came with a cost. This heavily reduced the amount of legal aid available. Without access to justice, people on the fringe of society will be forced to represent themselves in court or to forgo the possibility of justice altogether.
As a law student without a practicing license, options are limited in how you can help. However, here are some things you can do as a student to mitigate the damage created by LASPO and to ensure justice is still available for all.
Since the introduction of LASPO, volunteering is more important than ever. Starting a pro-bono society and getting your cohort to dedicate their time to pro-bono cases is a fantastic way to help. If your university already has a pro-bono society, try to find ways to become more active. Starting a newsletter about current opportunities is a great way to spread the word.
The Free Representation Unit (FRU) deals with employment and social security cases. As a volunteer, the cases you may work on could range from unfair dismissals to discrimination cases to disputes about incapacity and disability. It is a wide range of work that will help to develop your advocacy skills. Furthermore, it is a CV booster and shows your commitment to the legal profession.
Not every university has their own personal legal advice centre. If you are in a fortunate position to have one, it is a great way to help people. With only a few hours per week dedicated to cases, it is a fantastic way to help to give back to people who cannot afford legal help or do not qualify for legal aid under LASPO.
Receiving free legal advice can make a huge difference to the lives of vulnerable individuals in society. There are tons of fundraising initiatives such as The Great Legal Bake or The London Legal Walk that help to raise funds towards legal aid. By doing your part, you can help to mitigate the damage that LASPO has caused.
Access to justice is needed now more than ever. Volunteering as a student is a worthful experience. You can use your time and help people who really need it. Plus, it shows your dedication and commitment to the profession. Do your part and volunteer today!
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