Victims of domestic abuse are receiving practical support at Medway County Court from a specially trained group of Kent Law Clinic students.
The group of 16 law student volunteers are working with SATEDA (Support & Action To End Domestic Abuse) as part of the charity’s Support2Court project. The project provides support to SATEDA’s clients as they navigate Family Court proceedings. Volunteers can help with the process of applying for a protective order and provide support during child arrangement proceedings.
Law students began their training in October last year, following the establishment of a partnership with SATEDA by Kent Law Clinic Family Law Solicitor Philippa Bruce. An initial training session at Swale House in Sittingbourne was led by Solicitor Olive Craig from Rights of Women. Since then the students have enjoyed the practical and educational benefits of supporting SATEDA clients (predominantly women) in Family Court.
English and German Law student Amanda Duckworth said: ‘Being in court and supporting someone else is a big responsibility but it’s such a useful experience.’
Isabelle Blumenthal, also studying English and German Law, enjoys the level of responsibility she’s been given to support SATEDA clients: ‘I have filled out applications and written witness statements and felt as if I have been useful. When I was supporting a woman in court, it was rather stressful as the abuser turned up to contest – even though he had a restraining order – which meant I then had to liaise with the clerk and the judge to make sure that he spoke to the judge without seeing the client or her children. The woman was so grateful that she didn’t have to deal with this all on her own and so I definitely feel as if the volunteering is worthwhile and we are making a difference.’
International Legal Studies student Valcina Ademuyiwa wants to be a family law barrister. She said: ‘I’ve learnt a lot about working with clients and about the relevant legal process in this area of law.’
Lucy Willis is studying an LLM in Human Right Law. She was initially surprised at the informality of Family Court in comparison with a criminal court and says she’s found the experience to be invaluable: ‘I first attended court with Teresa from SATEDA and mainly observed her going through forms with a client. The following week I accompanied a lady in to a hearing as a Mackenzie friend- she was applying for a Prohibited Steps Order. Since then I have been going in to court to act as a Mackenzie friend when needed.’
Lucy has noted that, although many court staff are compassionate, they have limited time and resources. And she said that some victims of domestic violence had told her their solicitors lacked sufficient knowledge or compassion to effectively support them. She said: ‘I worry for women who are trying to navigate the court process without legal help or advice from somewhere like SATEDA. In particular, the process is very complex for women from other countries. A Kenyan woman I worked with was overwhelmed with the process. She had to come back to court to reapply for a non-molestation order against a man who had tried to kill her and wasn’t able to understand how her issues in Family Court might or might not relate to her divorce proceedings. It was very stark to have her say to me “The law has failed me.” In particular, I have seen the impact of cuts to legal aid; if the woman’s partner can afford legal representation or qualifies for legal aid but she does not, she is left terrified by the prospect of facing a barrister representing her abuser.
‘My days in court have been so rewarding – to have a woman hug me and say “you’ve explained everything clearly and made me feel safe” was a great feeling. The experience has given me so much to think about, particularly how the law responds to women who are victims of domestic abuse and how human rights can help (or not?).’