Law, much like time, waits for no one. In these extraordinary times the wheels on the juggernaut that is law, if a little fitfully, roll on. As life does for the vast majority but with its attendant difficulties magnified. The Clinic, like the justice system and everyone for that matter, is having to adapt to social distancing, self-isolation, public health concerns …to the lockdown and the rapidly changing environment.
To shine a little light in what are dark times what follows is an account of the Clinic during lockdown including some notable successes secured over the past three weeks. They should be, and I hope are, understood as successes for the Kent Law School (a manifestation of our collective critical ethos) as well for the wider University. We have great students, great staff and have a vital role to play across and in our communities.
It’s time to accentuate the positive. Each case outlined is a tribute to the work of Clinic students and the dedication of the solicitors/supervisors who conducted them.
Evening advice sessions
Rather than cancel the last two evening advice sessions of the term we ran them by telephone. We took this decision after consulting with our legal volunteers (the local solicitors and barristers who generously give their time and expertise to provide advice to members of the public). Clinic co-ordinators deftly made the (re)arrangements and put the logistics in place. Although less satisfactory than a face to face appointment, the clients did not lose the precious opportunity to receive timely legal advice.
- Against all odds: large criminal Injury payment secured: On 2 April a letter received from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority confirmed that our client had been awarded just under £90,000. The details of the case are too sensitive to go into. What can be said is that the case shows the Clinic at its holistic best. When first approached three years ago the prospects of success seemed hopeless – for one thing the client’s claim was years out of time. This case has been the cumulative efforts of many Clinic students, 4 Clinic solicitors, as well as coordinators. There have been myriad applications, numerous lever-arch folders of documents, Tribunal Directions Hearings, Reviews and Appeals. Persistence and collective endeavour have been rewarded. A special mention should go to former Clinic solicitor Hannah Uglow who first took on the challenge.
- Transfer of tenancy secured: This week the Clinic obtained a court order for our client, transferring a secure tenancy into our client’s sole name. Our client and her former partner held a joint tenancy for over ten years. The relationship broke down the ex-partner moved out, but our client suffered ongoing harassment despite having a restraining order in place. Our client understandably felt anxious and insecure. Because of coronavirus, the case could not be heard in the court building so instead took place as a telephone hearing. Our client is delighted with the outcome and very grateful to Clinic student Sara Ogbab, who worked with Clinic solicitor, Vivien Gambling, on this case. Sara led the meetings with the client, prepared the application (under Part IV Family Law Act 1996) and the witness statement. What is particularly satisfying is that our client retains a secure council tenancy, with a high level of protection. The Localism Act 2011, brought in detrimental changes resulting in far less protection for new tenancies, making it all the more important for our client to keep hold of her secure tenancy.
- Pipped in the post: disability benefit awarded: The Clinic takes on cases challenging decisions refusing claims for PIP (Personal Independence Payment) – a benefit intended to support disabled people with daily living and mobility needs. In February this year Ms H contacted us, after she was refused PIP, an all too frequent occurrence. Like many others she had previously received Disability Living Allowance. The refusal was a shock as well as a loss of much needed income. Although a friend had telephoned the Department of Work and Pensions to say that Ms H wished to challenge the decision, she had not submitted a written challenge with substantive reasons within the 28 day time limit. Clinic student Meredith Armstrong, working with Clinic solicitor Vivien Gambling under some time pressure, drafted the grounds for challenging the decision. In the first instance the DWP reviews its own decision – a mandatory reconsideration. Often it simply repeats its refusal meaning a long wait (12 months at present) for an appeal to a Tribunal. Much to our client’s and our delight, a letter arrived earlier this week from the DWP revising its decision and awarding PIP. We still need to consider the revised decision carefully – the level of the award, arguably, could be higher. But, it’s a start, a good one as a PIP award leads to other benefits being increased
- Immigration: Family to be reunited after years: On 1 April Richard Warren, Clinic immigration practitioner, received unexpected but amazingly good news. Our client who had been languishing in Egypt as a refuge from Syria had just arrived in the UK and would soon be with his wife and daughter. To set the scene: his wife had come to the UK in 2018 under the Syrian resettlement programme, and their daughter was born shortly after her arrival. Our client had been separated from them for two years, living the precarious life of a refugee in Egypt – uncertain as to whether he would be forced to return to Syria. The application for family reunion was made in 2018. Following a lengthy legal battle, involving two appeals, the immigration tribunal accepted that a refusal of entry clearance would amount to a disproportionate interference in the family’s right to family life. The Home Office was slow to act on the decision. Further legal threats had been made by the Clinic but with planes grounded and travel suspended things looked bleak. But for once something good and proactive happened. The UK waived visa requirements and he was allowed to board a repatriation flight. Our client is in the UK and able to see and be with his daughter for the very first time.
The Clinic Abides
There is more. Such as:
- Clinic immigration solicitor Sheona York’s article published in the Independent demanding the ending of the hostile environment and the suspension of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule
- Elaine Sherratt (Clinic solicitor) participating the country’s first ever telephone directions hearing in an appeal concerning a Planning Enforcement Notice
- Tony Pullen (Clinic employment adviser) nearing a substantial settlement on a case
- family law solicitor Philippa Bruce dealing with hearings and ongoing family cases
- Graham Tegg, Clinic Director and Solicitor, being interviewed on BBC Radio Kent about the need for the DWP to jettison its delaying and precautionary principles and instead make urgent payment to those in need when they need it.
One last thing. Talk is cheap. The Clinic continues to function as best it can to try and ensure people who live and work in Kent can access the support that’s available as well calling for more, better and speedier assistance.
A little light in dark times.
With considerable pride.