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Law students and staff from the University of Exeter will tomorrow stage a walk to emphasise poor access to justice and raise funds for the Community Legal Helpdesk at Exeter County Court.
Shortlisted for a national Best Student Pro Bono Project award, the helpdesk is manned by students, supervised by a qualified lawyer, and provides free legal guidance to the public. Housing claims, family and employment problems are among the most common issues that students help with.
Every week, drop-in sessions at the court offer free resources to explain court procedures and forms and refer members of the public for more legal advice. It has been running for just over one year and has come into contact with 150 cases.
Legal aid cuts under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 will begin to affect communities from the start of April, with many people who would have access to free legal advice no longer qualifying for it.
The Wainwright Walk raises money annually for legal aid facilities and this year is led by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. She said: “The removal of the provision of legal aid for a whole range of areas under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 from the end of this month, will lead to a vacuum in support for many people who are vulnerable or in need.
“I have set up a legal advice centre and know the sort of real resource it can provide. The Community Legal Helpdesk, which is run by law students at Exeter County Court, offers those people who are in need, direction as to procedure and general help when they are going through the legal process. It is unique in that there are not many other student legal advice clinics actually based at the local court. Its location provides on-the-spot help for clients,” she added.
Charlotte Brasher, student director of the helpdesk, has been involved in the project since its establishment. She said: “Exeter is comparatively small, with limited resources for members of the community. Because of this fact, there is a great deal of unmet legal need, which of course is where the helpdesk comes in.”