Embedding Open Justice Through a University Law Clinic

By Jaime Lindsey – 30th June, 2020

[Editorial Note: The Open Justice Court of Protection Project is very interested in pursuing similar short-term collaborative projects, to embed Public Observation of the Court of Protection into ongoing work and activism by offering brief “training” seminars online, and equipping members to attend, observe, and write about court hearings. We would especially love to hear from any health and social care teams, or advocacy groups and Disabled People’s Organisations that would be interested in a collaboration. Please get in touch via our Contact page.]

As has been widely emphasised both on this blog platform and elsewhere, Open Justice requires that justice is not just done, but seen to be done. As someone who has attended many court hearings over the years, the theatre of the court room is something I have always enjoyed. It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that these are the lives of real people being played out, but court hearings provide real animation to the law that we teach in universities. Many generations of law students have walked in to their local court building and sat in and watched hearings. During the pandemic, though, they cannot do this. As a Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, I’ve been hearing that some students have been struggling during the pandemic to access work experience opportunities. So we have launched an exciting new partnership with the ‘Open Justice Court of Protection Project’ to train Essex Law Clinic student volunteers to access remote Court of Protection (CoP) hearings throughout July and then write a short blog post about their experience for this website.

A new partnership

This partnership combines two aims: maintaining Open Justice during the pandemic and facilitating law students to gain insights into how the courts work when they might otherwise not be able to do so. As part of the training for this partnership, delivered jointly by Dr Jaime Lindsey and Professor Celia Kitzinger, Essex Law Clinic students have been informed how to locate relevant hearings and how to make contact with the court to observe, as well as the etiquette for observing hearings. We realise that, for many students, this will be their first experience in a court ‘room’ and so it was important for us to provide them with some training to give them an idea of what to expect, and what is expected of them. After the training, the students will look for a case suitable for their observation and they will then be encouraged to write a blog post about their experience.

We expect that the students will develop a number of skills during the course of the project, including listening, note-taking, observing, writing and professionalism skills. Most importantly, they will see justice in action in unprecedented times and contribute their small part to securing Open Justice.

A contribution to open justice

I read Celia Kitzinger’s original blog post about supporting a participant in CoP proceedings keenly when it first made the headlines back at the start of the pandemic. While I was disappointed to read about the experiences of the ‘lay’ participants in the case, I was a little unsurprised. As I often tell my students in their first year of university, studying law is like learning a new language. It’s not always easy to understand the jargon or follow the procedural elements of what is going on, although there are ways that this can be facilitated by the professional participants in the case. In some ways the pandemic has made this even more of a challenge, though, with the physical distance creating a material separation between everyone attending. Non-professional user experience of remote hearings is rightly a priority for research in this area, and the Open Justice Court of Protection Project is providing an important contribution to this agenda.

We believe that through this partnership we will also continue the process of embedding the importance of Open Justice as an essential part of access to justice within the Essex Law Clinic, something on which, under its Director – Professor Donald Nicolson – Essex Law Clinic has been leading.

What next

I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy some posts from our students over the coming weeks, and that their contributions will further highlight the wide range of experiences of remote hearings. Perhaps some may even provide new suggestions for reform and contribute to ongoing debates about the importance of Open Justice.

Dr Jaime Lindsey is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex and a supervisor at Essex Law Clinic. Her current research explores mental capacity law, adult safeguarding, the Court of Protection and access to justice. She has recently observed remote hearings for research into procedural justice and virtual hearings, building on previous research  undertaken observing face-to-face hearings in the Court of Protection in 2016.

Image made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

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