Monday, May 12, 2008

Community Law Advice Network enters the world of child law

For the first time, young people in Scotland who have need for access to advice & representation from a solicitor has been started in the form of the Community Law Advice Network.

However, would such a specialist service be needed in an opened legal services market which ultimately would provide access to legal services for all including the young ?

The Scotsman reports :

Child-centred service at last

By JENNIFER VEITCH

SCOTLAND’S first specialist legal service for children and young people who need advice and representation from a solicitor has been launched in Edinburgh.

The Community Law Advice Network (cl@n) will specialise in child law, initially covering the Lothians, with longer-term plans to expand across the country.

Children and young people – and, in some cases, their parents – will be able to accessspecialist legal advice on issues ranging from adoption to seeking asylum.

The service has been set up by solicitor Alison Reid and Fiona Jones, a non-practising advocate, who have both worked at the Scottish Child Law Centre, which runs a phone and e-mail advice service for children.

The two lawyers noted that there was a significant gap between offering advice over the phone and helping young people to find a solicitor prepared to take on their case, partly because of legal aid pressures.

“If a legal issue arises for a child, then it is very difficult for that child to obtain legal help,” explains Reid, who is chief executive of cl@n as well as its principal solicitor.

“This is due to a reluctance to see a solicitor in an office in town, the perceived costs, the complexity of the law and also the difficulty in finding a solicitor to do child law under the legal aid scheme. We always wondered whether the link was made between phoning the centre and going to the solicitor.”

As children’s rights have moved up the agenda in the two decades since the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Reid says, it is appropriate that they should be able to access specialist legal services, which are already being tested south of the Border.

“In England and Wales, Youth Access Law Centre Projects are being piloted but there [has been] no specialist legal service being provided in Scotland that carries out representation aimed principally at children.

“Other providers supply information, and the Scottish Child Law Centre provides legal advice by telephone or by e-mail, but there are no specialist not-for-profit face-to-face legal advice or representation services for children.” Jones adds that cl@n is not looking to replace law firms who represent children, but to address areas of need and improve access to justice for vulnerable young people.

“The bottom line was that we could see there was a need in the not-for-profit sector,” Jones says. “Although there are some private law firms delivering legal services to children and young people, with the viability of legal aid work, there are probably fewer and fewer solicitors’ firms out there doing this type of work. There is a lot of work out there and we are not looking to set ourselves up in competition.”

Over the next year, the two lawyers expect that they will provide legal advice to around 100 children and families who would not otherwise have access to a solicitor. Cl@n will work with “first tier” advice providers, as well as the statutory and voluntary sector to identify children who would benefit from legal advice.

Reid believes young people will respond well to an outreach service, rather than phone or e-mail advice, and she and Jones say they will try to meet children and young people in much less formal settings than traditional solicitors.

“There has been research into this in England and what it says is no surprise – that young people like to meet with a solicitor face-to-face, in preference to phone or internet, in a familiar environment,” she says. “The idea is to provide an outreach service that will be delivered in an environment they are familiar with, for example a café round the corner from them, or potentially their school.”

One of the key groups Reid and Jones hope will benefit is young people in care. For example, cl@n will offer advice on issues such as permanence orders, children’s hearings and the rights of young people leaving care.

While its start-up costs are being met by the Scottish Government, Reid adds that further funding is currently being sought to support cl@n’s work. This will be raised through training professionals about child-related law – topics include Children’s Hearings and Child Protection and the Law – and the network already has training contracts in place with Edinburgh Council and Central Law Training.

Reid also hopes to generate interest from law firms interested in doing pro-bono work, perhaps to enable newly qualified solicitors to gain more experience. The network has already been accredited by the Faculty of Advocate’s free legal services unit, and Reid is talking to some firms about how cl@n might fit in with their pro bono plans.

“We are currently in discussion with a few law firms regarding their corporate social responsibility agenda, and we hope this will result in support by way of potential funding, provision of training venues, legal support services, and solicitors to undertake pro-bono work.”

Reid says she hopes the service will expand to other areas of unmet need – its aim is to provide legal advice and representation to people “at a place suitable to them, at the time that they need it, irrespective of their ability to pay”. Access to justice for people with problems related to housing, employment or debt may benefit.

“Our vision for the future is to expand the child law provision, increase the scope of legal service provision to other areas of welfare law and to roll out the model across Scotland,” she says.

Meanwhile, cl@n’s main focus is giving “practical effect” to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and “enabling children to participate fully in decision making processes which affect them and allowing their views to be heard”.

Jones adds: “It’s a very clear way of allowing that to happen and enabling children to participate in legal processes that affect them. One of the difficulties is that there is a lot of high level discussion about it, but it’s the delivery that’s the issue – and that’s where we come in.”

• For further information on the service, log on to: http://www.clanchildlaw.org

1 comment:

Legal Training Contracts said...

This is a wonderful development, as legal issues involving children are becoming more numerous lately. If only we had more legal training contracts, we’d also have more younger lawyers wanting to get involved in this.