The next event in our autumn series will be on women’s rights on Wednesday 28 November at Baker McKenzie in London. It will be open to members and anyone else who is interesting in attending. We will share more details in due course once confirmed.
An Evening with Lawyers Against Poverty
On Monday 15 October, Lawyers Against Poverty hosted a discussion at Simmons & Simmons on the theme of what lawyers can do in aid of refugees.
We heard from Professor Alexandra Xanthaki, Research Director at Brunel Law School, who established an initiative whereby students can offer their assistance as volunteers to refugees in Athens. Alexandra showed us a video in which the students describe their time in the Eleonas Refugee Camp and in a community centre for women and children. Pro bono and voluntary work, in aid of refugees and others, is very much encouraged within the law department at Brunel – as Alexandra says, empathy and passion for justice are essential for any lawyer.
We also heard from Phil Worthington, Managing Director of European Lawyers in Lesvos, an organisation working to ensure free and independent legal advice for asylum seekers on the island of Lesvos. He conveyed very strongly the struggle for asylum seekers to understand the system they must navigate, which is complex and ever-changing. Legal aid is only available at the appeal stage (and sometimes not even then) and most will attend their asylum interviews (at which their status is determined) without seeing a lawyer first.
Jared Ficklin, Director of the University of Liverpool’s Law Clinic and a volunteer with ELIL, shared with us his account of Moria, described by the BBC as the “worst refugee camp on Earth.” He said it was not the overcrowding or squalor that created the worst feelings of despair among the inhabitants but rather the slow and entirely opaque system for seeking sanctuary. As a result, individuals who are already vulnerable and living in the camp for many months without a decision can very easily become traumatised.
Adrian Henderson, Leader of LAP’s Refugee Thematic Group, told us about the series of legal insight training sessions that Lawyers Against Poverty developed and delivered in Oxford in late 2017. The sessions were based on employment, criminal and family law and were intended to offer refugees information on their rights as residents of the UK. As a next step, Adrian is intending to create a centralised database with resources for volunteers around the country to use in order to offer the sessions in many more regions.
Kirsty and Richard introduced the new initiative we are currently working on to increase engagement with refugee rights issues and encourage collaborative action to support refugees overseas and in the UK. We want to collaborate with a network of volunteers on a range of activities to assist refugees, including working to offer legal insight training sessions to more refugees, create work experience opportunities for refugees and raise funds for European Lawyers in Lesvos and the Greek Council for Refugees.
Thank you to all members and others who came along on Monday; it was wonderful to come together and discuss what lawyers can do in aid of refugees in the world today.
The Launch of Just Lawyers at the Law Society
On 13 June 2018, Just Lawyers was launched on the first day of the Law Society’s In-House Division Conference. Our panel of speakers – Nikki Elliot (Co-Chair of Lawyers Against Poverty’s In-House Thematic Group), Mark Maurice-Jones (General Counsel at Nestlé), Claire Mortimer (Assistant Legal Adviser at the Foreign Office) and Joss Saunders (General Counsel at Oxfam GB) – chaired a series of roundtable discussions on achieving social justice as a lawyer.
Our first discussion was around creating a culture of compliance within an organisation and influencing others in our role as lawyers. We considered the need to encourage the right behaviours and communicate with openness and transparency in order to increase meaningful engagement, especially with more junior members of an organisation, and foster trust.
Our second discussion considered public perceptions of lawyers and whether or not we are seen as guarantors of justice. We discussed the fact that perceptions are changeable and will often be coloured by contemporary events or individual experience. The consensus was that more education is needed to encourage understanding at an earlier age of our role in upholding principles as imperative as the rule of law.
Our third discussion was around achieving social justice as lawyers. We discussed the fact that we can work in aid of social justice most effectively in circumstances where we are using our skills and training as lawyers. Several members of the audience told us of social justice initiatives they had developed (such as a work experience scheme for children from deprived backgrounds and a “hack” to debunk the legal barriers around using solar energy).
We were honoured to have Christina Blacklaws, the Vice President of the Law Society, announce the launch of Just Lawyers after our roundtable discussions. She spoke with much enthusiasm of the website as an empowerment tool that could help lawyers to become leaders of justice in society and as a forum in which to seek inspiration and inspire one another. Our many thanks to her and to the Law Society for hosting our launch!
Evening at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights
In May 2018, the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights hosted an evening for Junior Lawyers Against Poverty in Oxford. We heard from Kate O’Regan, Director of the Bonavero Institute, Shirley Shipman, Principal Lecturer and Programme Lead in Law at Oxford Brookes, Joss Saunders, General Counsel at Oxfam GB, Adrian Henderson, Co-Chair of Oxford Lawyers Against Poverty, and Tom Giles, Partner at Turpin and Miller. We were able to speak with some of the students who attended, including members of the Human Rights Forum at Mansfield College and the Oxford University Amnesty International Society. It was wonderful to see so much interest in the work of Lawyers Against Poverty and exchange thoughts about how we can work to engage a wider group of students committed to combatting the injustice of poverty. We hope to work together to take Junior Lawyers Against Poverty further forward in Oxford.
Drinks at Baker McKenzie
In March 2018, Lawyers Against Poverty held a drinks event at Baker McKenzie to welcome our new Co-Chairs, Kirsty Wilson and Richard Dyton. Kirsty is a Partner in the Corporate Department at Baker McKenzie and Richard is a Partner and the Head of Pro Bono at Simmons & Simmons. Together they have much experience of and enthusiasm for pro bono projects and we look forward to developing Lawyers Against Poverty with the benefit of their leadership.
Strategic Litigation in Practice
In February 2018, Oxfam organised a conference on Strategic Litigation in Practice alongside the University of Oxford Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and the Oxford Human Rights Hub to consider the opportunities and challenges around using strategic litigation as means of achieving change and to create an international community of practice of those involved with such work.
The conference included sessions on the ethics and politics of strategic litigation, the ability to achieve community empowerment through strategic litigation, defensive uses and different models of strategic litigation, the employment of extra-territorial, universal or other forms of jurisdiction and the use of regional and international fora.
Lawyers Against Poverty was able to invite Gaye Sowe, the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, with whom we are currently in collaboration on a case, to consider the commonalities and the differences in how strategic litigation has been used across the world in the context of anti-colonial struggles and contemporary geo-politics.
We hope that you will tell your colleagues and friends about Lawyers Against Poverty. Organising your own local event is a very effective way of raising awareness of the need for access to justice in developing communities. We can share useful information and materials with you and will of course answer any queries you may have. Please email us if you would like to find out more.