British Sign Language, Ananda Bruce

At the start of the academic year 2021/22, the GCU Law Clinic volunteers started learning British Sign Language(BSL) to make our services more accessible.

Claire McFadzean, Academic Director of the Clinic, had always planned on volunteers being able to sign within the clinic. During the pandemic, the Law Clinic have moved their services online. The online BSL training course offered by British Sign meant our students could participate from home, making the Clinic more inclusive. Claire and the then student director Lucy Mackay, pushed for the volunteers to take advantage of this opportunity.

Learning BSL was not only fun and engaging but a great life skill to have. The videos were really easy to understand and follow and there were plenty of resources provided in the course. Students have started to create short videos signing a message about the clinic. Ananda, Taylor and Magda are some of the students who have completed the course and their videos are shown below.

We know we have a lot to learn and we are really keen to keep getting better. Everyone deserves access to justice, and we hope this project contributes to that.

LawScot COP26 Conference

On Friday 29th October the Law Society of Scotland COP26 Conference was held in the EICC. The event sought to cover the modern lawyer’s role in tackling the impact of climate change. A range of speakers were invited to attend. Included were former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Roddy Dunlop QC and GCU’s own Dr. Angela O’Hagan.

 

In light of COP26 which is currently well underway in Glasgow (see GCU Law Clinic social media for more info), a sense of urgency could be felt. Law-making, legal interventions and litigation in the climate crisis were discussed at length. This demonstrated the breadth of influence lawyers have on environmental policy.

One session of particular interest to me was a discussion on how tackling climate change can be part of legal education. Incorporating discussion of the climate crisis into the legal curriculum could work to ensure the next generation of lawyers is better prepared for the climate emergency, embodying the theme of proactive change underlying the event.

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the seriousness of the subject matter. For Glaswegians, the passion of demonstrators has been particularly visible over the last few weeks. The event didn’t shy away from the crisis, but did focus on what legal professionals can proactively do, which gave a hopeful note to proceedings. It was an honour to be invited (thanks Seonaid!). I very much look forward to continuing to focus on this important topic within the GCU Law Clinic, thinking about what lawyers and law students can do to tackle the crisis. I will look to my future legal career enlightened by the knowledge imparted by the inspiring individuals who took the time to share their ideas.

Emily Ward, Project Manager @GCULawClinic

Twitter @wxrec

Law Clinic: #PassTheBadge Campaign

 

The GCU Law Clinic is proud to be taking part in the Law Society of Scotland’s #PassTheBadge campaign. It’s important that we talk about mental health and promote wellbeing for law students and lawyers.

Our Management Team have put together some of our top tips that we have found helpful in looking after our wellbeing and mental health during what has been a really hard few months.

  1. Lockdown has had an impact on all of us and it’s been easy to feel overwhelmed by the news. Lots of us have taken up new and (old!) hobbies to channel our energy in positive ways: we’ve started playing the piano again; taken up sewing; worked on artistic projects; and lots of us have been baking.  It’s a good way to escape from our screens and take some time for ourselves.
  2. Exercise – especially walking – has been really good for our mental health over the last few months. Getting outside can give us the space we need to feel healthier and happier.
  3. Bringing the outside in also helps a few of us with our mental health. Looking after houseplants can be calming and can give you a sense of purpose while we’re all at home a lot more.
  4. Reading (for pleasure – not study!) can be another great distraction when you’re feeling anxious. It can help you break with the news cycle and divert your brain for a little while.
  5. We also find it useful to limit our use of social media – setting time limits on certain apps can help you step away from the screen and do something that makes you feel good.
  6. Making lists really helps with the feeling of being overwhelmed. It can help you feel more in control and help you set achievable goals.
  7. It’s also really important to take time to pause. Take time away from work or study and give yourself a break.  It’s important to make sure you plan some time for yourself every week.
  8. It is also really important to take some time to talk to your loved ones – check in with the people you care about and talk about how you are feeling.
  9. Mindfulness is a great way of taking stock of your current situation and helps you to live in the moment and not worry about things that may or may not happen in the future.
  10. If you need support – reach out to the University. You can find out about mental health and wellbeing services at GCU here https://www.gcu.ac.uk/student/support/wellbeing/

If you would like to learn more about the campaign check out these links: https://www.lawscot.org.uk/members/wellbeing/get-involved/pass-the-badge/ and https://vimeo.com/lawsocietyscotland.

Campaign for Complainer Anonymity

Would it surprise you to learn that complainers in sexual offence cases have no automatic right to anonymity in Scotland? This Campaign begins with a simple statement of fact. The idea that complainers “automatically have a right to anonymity under UK law” is often referred to in Scotland – but it has no foundation in Scots law.

We believe this situation is highly problematic. We believe something as important as complainer anonymity should not have to rely on journalists following professional codes of practice, or the general public’s self-restraint on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

In our experience, most people are shocked to discover that people in Scotland who allege they have been victims of sexual offences have no legal right to anonymity. While Scottish courts can make orders prohibiting the identification of complainers under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, these orders are not automatic and are not sought in the overwhelming majority of cases. This leaves a critical gap in our law. Scottish complainers are exposed to an acute risk of being publicly identified in connection with the case, without any effective legal remedy.

We think this is a problem Holyrood can fix – and fix fairly easily.

As a result we are establishing the Campaign for Complainer Anonymity led by lecturers in law Dr. Andrew Tickell and Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe, working with our GCU law students.

We will engage with the wider public and complainers to look at what anonymity means to them – are Scots aware of the law as it stands? How does this impact on decision-making about disclosure? How should the law be reformed?

We will also work with students to put the Scottish experience in its wider legal context by looking at how other jurisdictions across the world handle the issue of restrictions of publicising the identity of complainers or publishing material likely to identify them. This will help us think critically about what any law reform efforts in Scotland could and should look like.

There are different models for how Scots Law can be changed, better to protect complainer anonymity and more clearly to set out the rights and responsibilities of people writing about these criminal cases. This campaign aims to identify and progress concrete legislative reforms which can be adopted by the Scottish Government and Parliament to update the law, better to reflect public understandings and attitudes towards this important issue.

We will soon be launching our dedicated Campaign website but, if you want further information about the Campaign in the meantime, please contact: Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe Seonaid.stevenson@gcu.ac.uk Dr. Andrew Tickell Andrew.Tickell@gcu.ac.uk

Professional Links Module – Work Experience Sought

 

 

 

 

 

At Glasgow Caledonian University we thrive on ideas and support innovation. We also value the importance of social responsibility. Students come to us from all backgrounds, for our knowledge and experience and to enhance their career and personal ambitions.  Our external partners come to us to find the latest research-led thinking and to access the talent of our students.

This year more than ever, we are reaching out to our external partners and beyond, to enable us to continue to offer our law students the best possible experience, despite these difficult and uncertain times.

As part of our LLB curriculum, we offer employability sessions within our modules. Professional Links is one such unique module. The module is designed to allow students to gain academic credit towards their degree based on practical experience.  The GCU LLB programme is highly committed to widening access to the Scottish legal profession, both in terms of studying and career progression and the need to find opportunities for our students has never been greater. There is real benefit to students being able to undertake a short placement in a law firm, shadow experienced solicitors and gaining first-hand experience of law at work. The majority of our students do not have family or personal connections within the legal sector.   At GCU we work tirelessly to bridge the gap and provide our students with work experience to help prepare them for life after university but, more importantly, to assist them with securing future training contracts.  Research has shown experiential learning to be a powerful tool, which complements the theory being studied. It also shows the benefit to host firms from gaining flexible, motivated and talented students.

If you are employed in the legal sector, whether a solicitor, Advocate or HR Manager, who is able to offer our students an appropriate short term placement, virtual or otherwise, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact Claire McFadzean, Academic Director of the Law Clinic and Module Leader on claire.mcfadzean@gcu.ac.uk by 30th September 2020. Claire will provide further details and discuss arrangements.

 

In these challenging times, it’s more important than ever to reach out and help.

 

 

 

 

‘Women in Law Wednesday’ Dr. Karla Perez Portilla

This week’s ‘Women in Law Wednesday’ is Dr. Karla Perez Portilla, who has been a lecturer here at GCU Law since October 2018. We were keen to talk to her not only because of how her career relates to law, but because of how her legal work intersects with social justice. In fact, we approached her for the project after she delivered an extremely interesting lecture on ‘Feminism and Jurisprudence’ to LLB3 last semester. Karla has given some brilliant and insightful answers about her career progression and what it means to be a woman in law.

Karla explains that her ‘career started in Mexico researching and teaching Constitutional Law, Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’. She has also ‘been a guest lecturer at the University of Strathclyde and Teaching Fellow at University College London, Faculty of Law’ which is where she completed her PhD. When asked about her career journey, Karla explained once she had graduated it was not easy to find a job in the UK. On top of this, she was also a new mum. She ‘therefore started volunteering, and little by little, I built my reputation in Glasgow, combining my academic experience with ‘hands-on’ work for the third sector’. Her work in the third sector consisted of prejudice reduction programmes, delivering training and implementing and evaluating interventions. She was a community practitioner which, she explains, ‘was a role that has enriched and informed my teaching methods and approaches’. She has brought this experience she speaks of into her role at GCU Law.

We asked Karla what she believes her greatest achievements were in her career journey so far. She explains that as she likes thinking and developing ideas and theories with practical application that a highlight in her career has been to have published two different single author books with renowned publishing house – one in English and one in Spanish. She explains, ‘it is unusual to publish a book based on an LLB dissertation in Mexico and having published a revised version of my PhD thesis with Routledge, is equally joyful.’ Further to this Karla explains that the revised version allowed her to ‘expand the linguistic extent of her contributions to legal knowledge’ and demonstrate her ‘commitment to social justice and academic rigour’.

There are various reasons, Karla says, for why these publications were a highlight in her career but she notes two specific reasons. Firstly, ‘the crave for and the difficulties in achieving recognition as a woman of colour’ and secondly because it has given her the opportunity to use her books ‘in academic settings and within the wider community in international and local conferences, specialised courses, training programmes, academic modules and diplomas both in Mexico and in the UK.’

In response to a question about gender balance in the LLB, Karla explains that there is not much difference between the students at GCU Law and the students where she completed her degree in Mexico, ‘there are still many women at the beginning of a law degree and very few making it to the top, in virtually all sectors.’ An interesting insight into the universality of the issue.

We next wanted to ask Karla about whether she has ever felt disadvantaged as a woman in law, ‘as a woman generally and as a woman from an ethnic minority background in the UK, I have always felt that I have to work harder, stay longer, excel, etc… I have felt this pressure both in Mexico and in the UK.’ On the other hand, she feels that ‘being a woman from an ethnic minority background with experience of migration has helped me make meaningful contributions to academia and in practice. Lived experience coupled with rigorous research and practical work allows us to provide valuable insights in order to bring about positive exchange.’ She finishes her answer with an interesting insight; ‘I think it is fair to say that, to a large extent, lived experience is a basic ingredient for bringing about social justice.’

Finally, as we ask all our interviewees, we asked Karla what being a woman in law meant to her:

‘It means the need to recognise that being a woman is a range of experiences shaped by skin colour, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic background, religion, etc.

For me, being a woman in law means a desire and the possibility to make the understanding and use of such terms, one that actually includes the diversity, roles and identities of women. I believe that we have to make a conscious effort to identify, seek to portray and celebrate the experiences of those overlooked or marginalised. It would be useful to make the most of the concept of intersectionality, as coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, in order to include and make visible a range of real lived experiences, histories, challenges and achievements.’

We thank Karla for her valuable contribution to the project. We hope that her inspired words have provoked thought about how the law can be used for social justice.

By Lucy Mackay LLB3

New Terrorism Legislation

Following a recent terrorist attack on the 2 February which involved the automatic early release of a prisoner Sudesh Amman attacking innocent people on the streets of Streatham, new emergency legislation has been passed to prevent this happening again. Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill was passed by MPs. Amman had only been released around a week earlier after serving half of his sentence of three years and four months for terror offences. Boris Johnson declared that there will be “fundamental changes to the system for dealing with those convicted of terrorism offences”.

The previous system allowed for those found guilty of terror offences being free to go after serving half their sentence. The new law will ensure terrorists serve a minimum of two-thirds of their sentence before they will be considered for release. There has been criticism from inmate’s lawyers and some are preparing a legal challenge on the basis that when convicted inmates were told they would automatically be released half way and therefore have a ‘legitimate expectation’ of being released at this date. Ministers are confident the bill is legally sound and believe that they are altering sentences not completely changing them.

Since the passing of this legislation the independent Parole Board will only release an inmate if they are satisfied they no longer pose a threat. Upon their release they will be subject to the strictest possible conditions and ongoing monitoring. However, in the case of Sudesh Amman, if this legislation had been in place at the time it would have only made a difference of an extra six months in prison. Many argue that it only allows for a brief extension in protection. The success of passing The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill will be evaluated over the upcoming year to asses if it is protecting the public further.

Carys McIntyre, GCU Law Clinic Volunteer

Women in Law Wednesday returns…

 

Helena Kennedy QC was born and grew up in the South side of Glasgow. She was, at first, going to study English at Glasgow University. However, she changed her mind and studied Law in London at the Council of Legal Education instead. It was this decision that lead to Helena becoming one of the most prominent and important female lawyers of our time.

Over a career spanning four decades, Helena has focused on ensuring those who are most vulnerable have a voice in our legal system. She is a member of the Doughty Street Chambers in London, and specialises in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues. She has acted in a number of high-profile cases that includes – but is not limited to – the Brighton Bombing, the Guildford Four appeal and the bombing of the Israeli embassy. Her current work encompasses cases linked with the rise of terrorism.

In addition, Helena is a patron for numerous charities including Safe Hands (a charity dedicated to helping maternal and infant health in Ethiopia), sits as a Labour member in the House of Lords and served as a Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford from 2011 to 2018. This highlights that Helena is an incredible woman and lawyer, and her copious achievements should be admired by all law students and lawyers alike.

Moreover, Helena has written some of the most important books about women and the British Justice System. This is how I discovered Helena Kennedy. In 1993, Helena wrote a book entitled, “Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice.” This book provided a female perspective on how the law treated women. 25 years later, Helena wrote a second book on the same topic entitled, “Eve was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women.” I have read this book, and truly believe it is a must read for everybody. Helena manages to write openly and honestly about a difficult topic, providing a coherent argument throughout about the injustices women still face in the modern day. The book covers every topic, from the disparity of female judges at the top of the legal system to the difference in incarceration rates for men and women facing similar charges. She provides an interesting perspective on sexual abuse cases, condemning the decision not to remove victims’ sexual history from rape trials, and also examines the deep-rooted issues that led to events such as the Rotherham scandal, rather than singularly blaming it on the girls ‘lifestyle choices’. These sections make a particularly interesting read in light of the MeToo movement.

Helena spoke of her sadness at having to write a second book on this topic 25 years after her first, but it’s importance should not be undermined. Although this book provides an in-depth insight into the failings of the justice system for women, it highlights that work has been done since the original publication in 1993. Furthermore, it proves that with continuous work the justice system can work equally for men and women.

Shona Christie, LLB3, GCU Law Clinic Volunteer

Paving the Way: The First Four

As we have mentioned previously on the blog, this year marks 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was introduced. This landmark act proved to be revolutionary, as it provided women with the opportunity to enter the legal profession for the first time. It was Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes and Maud Crofts who took advantage of this incredible opportunity.

Carrie Morrison, at 34 years old, was the first woman to receive acceptance as a solicitor in England and Wales in December 1922. She spent most of her time working as a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ in the East End of London. Furthermore, she also represented prostitutes in court, worked for the Women and Children’s Protection Society and even defended the Becontree Estate protesters in 1932. A pioneering woman who dedicated her career to helping those less fortunate, Carrie set a high bar for other women to follow.

The other three women qualified in January 1923, and also led ground-breaking careers. Mary Pickup worked alongside her husband after getting accepted, having spent the 10 years before that also assisting him. She also worked at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department in Birmingham. Mary was also the only one of the four women who had children to care for whilst studying for her exams. However, it was her determination that allowed her to complete her exams alongside having a family.

Mary Sykes worked for her father’s firm until 1930, when she set up her own legal firm – Mary Sykes and Co. Her father – also a solicitor – died in 1921 so never got to see his only daughter’s achievements. Yet her perseverance and determination allowed her, in 1935, to become the only woman on Huddersfield Town Council and Huddersfield’s only female practising lawyer simultaneously.

Maud Crofts spent a lifetime campaigning for woman’s rights. Even through the First World War she did not give up her fight, instead gaining experience in a solicitor’s office at the same time. Once qualified, Maud and her husband set up their own practice alongside Maud’s brother, Robert Ingram. Maud did not stop work even when she had children, although at the time it was seen as the right thing to do. Maud did not retire until ill-health left her with no other choice. She was 66 years old. Both Maud’s daughter Rosemary and grand-daughter Mary also followed in her footsteps and entered the legal profession. This made them England’s first three generational family of female solicitors.

All four of these women overcame obstacles and fought hard for the right to practice law. They paved the way for women in law now, and in their time they truly changed the legal world for the better.

By Shona Christie

GCU Law Clinic Volunteer, LLB3

Women in Law Wednesday: Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe

For this week’s ‘Women in Law Wednesday’ we have chosen Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe, who we had the pleasure of talking to. We found out all about her journey in the legal profession so far, discussed inequality in law and some inspiring advice was shared.

In her relatively short career Seonaid has achieved an incredible amount. In 2012 she graduated with a 1st class degree in Law and English Literature from the University of Glasgow before studying for an LLM in International Law, which was funded by the Carnegie Cameron Scholarship.  She then worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague before returning to Glasgow to study for the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (graduating first in her year). Seonaid then trained at Maclay, Murray and Spens (now Dentons) and is now a human rights lawyer with The Ethnic Minorities Law Centre in Glasgow. She also works part time as a Research Assistant with the University of Glasgow on their project celebrating the centenary of women in law (https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/law/100years/).

Seonaid is the co-founder of RebLaw Scotland, something that we were especially interested in talking to her about. Throughout the interview, the clear theme was Seonaid’s passion for social justice and using law as a tool to achieve that. Which is exactly what the ‘rebellious lawyering’ project is about. ‘Rebellious lawyering’ is a movement founded by the UCLA academic, Professor Gerald López, which has resulted in the annual Yale RebLaw conference.  Seonaid attended the first RebLaw conference in the UK in London during her traineeship and brought the idea of a similar Scottish conference back up to Glasgow.  She co-founded RebLaw Scotland with Mairi McAllan and Katy MacAskill, women who she trained with at Maclay Murray Spens.  The friendship between the three, Seonaid notes, was one of the highlights of her traineeship.

RebLaw Scotland hosts an annual conference, where they bring together professionals from the third sector, from academia, and practising lawyers, to talk about tackling social problems through radical lawyering. In recent years they have discussed legal responses to homelessness, refugee rights and tackling forced marriage. Seonaid also talks of other plans, such as visiting law schools around Scotland in the new year. We would strongly encourage anyone reading to keep an eye out for upcoming RebLaw Scotland events!

Another interesting part of Seonaid’s journey so far is that she initially did not want to be a practicing solicitor. When she first went into her undergraduate degree, she wanted to be a journalist but realised that she did really enjoy the law, even the ‘boring’ bits! She still however did not opt to do the diploma after graduation and worked for a small charity as a research and policy officer before completing her LLM.  She then started work at the International Criminal Court, which is where she finally decided she wanted to qualify as a lawyer. In The Hague she saw human rights law in practice and decided that she wanted to be able to advocate on behalf of victims of human rights abuses in the judicial system.  This is what then pushed her to go back to Glasgow and undertake the diploma and traineeship.

Despite her achievements, Seonaid was keen to explain that it hasn’t been all plain sailing and she points to many incredible women in her life who have helped her along the way.  She highlighted in particular the support of her mum, who is also a lawyer, which she notes has undeniably placed her in a privileged position. She said “I think every achievement I have ever made is thanks to her” and that, therefore, “women supporting women is such an important principle for me.”

As an example of this, Seonaid told us about feeling like an imposter when she first moved to The Hague.  Helena Kennedy QC, author of ‘Eve Was Framed’ (and more recently ‘Eve Was Shamed’) had long been an inspiration for Seonaid.  Helena Kennedy QC was an alumna of Seonaid’s secondary school, one of the largest comprehensive schools in the UK.  Seonaid explained that she would regularly read ‘Eve Was Framed’ as a source of inspiration when her confidence was failing. Struggling with her confidence when she first moved to The Hague, Seonaid picked up the book and decided to email Helena Kennedy QC to thank her, never expecting a response. She was stunned to receive a reply, filled with encouragement. This small act of kindness demonstrated to Seonaid how powerful it can be for women to support one another.  She goes on to explain that the feeling that she got from the email – that she was not alone – inspires her work with the University of Glasgow ‘100 Voices for 100 Years’ project. “When you read the voices of other women saying isn’t this hard, isn’t this difficult, it makes you realise that it is not just you that feels like that, other women do too.” She explained that the project is a space for talking about gender equality but that there also needs to be wider changes in terms of diversity in the legal profession, particularly in terms of representation of those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Finally, we asked Seonaid the question we ask all our interviewees – what does being a women in law mean to you?

“It means that I am in a privileged position to use my voice to support vulnerable women. I try to do that in my work with migrant women, and I try to do that to support other women in law to achieve what they want to. Being a lawyer is a massive privilege and I think that we should use that little bit of power for good.”

We are very grateful to Seonaid for sitting down with us and talking about her experiences, and we think she may be on the receiving end of emails such as the one she sent to Helena Kennedy QC in the not too distant future.

By Lucy Mackay