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Justice Week 2020 – Day 1

Craig Fahey, Streetlaw Manager (North) looks at what is happening at BPP for Justice Week.

From 24th – 28th February, BPP’s Pro Bono Centre will be joining the rest of the legal profession in celebrating Justice Week. This is an initiative supported by the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) to improve access to justice. The aim is to promote awareness of justice issues and put important topics such as justice and the rule of law at the heart of public and political debate. For 2020, the focus is very much on Public Legal Education.

Here at BPP, we will be celebrating Justice Week through one of our flagship Pro Bono projects – Streetlaw. We will be running numerous sessions nationwide throughout Justice Week in local schools, tribunals and community groups to expand our current PLE offering. And for the next week, we will be posting a series of blogs about our PLE project for you all to read. These posts, written by staff and students involved in Streetlaw, will aim to show you the benefits of working on a PLE project, the impact it can have on yourself, and the importance it has for the clients it works with. Please do read them and, if you enjoy what you’re reading, have a look at how you can get involved in promoting Public Legal Education, whether that is here at BPP or elsewhere. At the very least, please share the posts far and wide to help BPP celebrate and promote Justice Week to everyone!

For myself, I have had the unique opportunity to see Public Legal Education projects from the perspective of both a student and staff member. As a student, despite the vast range of Pro Bono opportunities provided by BPP, it was never in doubt that I would opt for Streetlaw. Only Streetlaw provides the opportunity to interact and engage with such a wide and diverse range of clients. It is the most enjoyable of all Pro Bono projects offered here. From opportunities to run and participate in the Criminal Trial of Goldilocks with Year 6s, to visiting prisons and employment tribunals, this project introduces you to so many interesting and inspiring people. More importantly, it provides you with the opportunity to learn first-hand how to communicate effectively with these different people – often about complex legal matters. This is a vital employability skill.

As a staff member, I have seen how the project has helped students develop their skills and confidence.

But it is the effect on our clients in the community that has been the most startling thing to see. Legal Aid cuts have left vast swathes of the community with very little access to basic legal information. My experience of Streetlaw here in Manchester, is that we have played a key role in bringing important knowledge to these abandoned communities. A key example is our work with HMP Styal in Greater Manchester. This is an all-female prison where residents lack the resources or contacts to obtain information about obtaining contact with their children on release. Such a simple but important part of family life, but an area in which the law is complex and tough to navigate. Thanks to the hard work and excellent communication from BPP Volunteers, women in the prison left with a much clearer idea of their rights, responsibilities and a better understanding of why the court makes the decisions it does.

And that is where I will end my blog today. On understanding. Because that is the crucial take home from any Streetlaw session. We give clients an understanding of their rights and of the legal system. This in turn, helps them to combat legal aid cuts that have left them without lawyers; they can have the confidence to participate in society with full understanding of their rights; to challenge people when their rights are threatened, thus making sure the rule of law is observed. All of this is fundamental to our democracy – and it’s all being achieved through Public Legal Education.