The Open Justice Centre has launched an exciting new initiative for its alumni to help shape the development of future legal outreach projects.
A dozen alumni volunteers have been appointed to sit on the new Open Justice Student Ambassador Panel after being invited to express an interest in this voluntary two-year role. The Panel will have a direct input into the work of the Centre and will meet online three times a year.
“This new Panel will support and develop the Centre’s public engagement work, as well as allowing our current students to connect with their predecessors. It will harness the experience of former students who have contributed to the success of pro bono legal projects, ensuring that the Centre remains responsive to the needs and aspirations of our current students.”Liz Hardie, member of the Open Justice Centre team
The Open Justice Centre offers OU Law students the opportunity to undertake voluntary projects to apply their legal knowledge and skills in a way that furthers the University’s social justice mission. It is running a dozen projects during the current 2019-20 academic year which provide free legal advice, education and guidance to the public.
Since its inception in 2016, students who have participated in the projects have been the biggest supporters of the Centre’s work. They have offered invaluable feedback, advice and support, both to the Open Justice team and to new students working on the projects.
“The whole process felt like a professional collaboration, rather than an academic exercise. This was a great motivator and certainly helped me to feel like I was contributing to a case and a client, rather than being treated as a student helper.”An Open Justice student who was working on a criminal appeals project
As the Open Justice Centre approaches its third anniversary, the 2019 Annual Report provides an opportunity to review the progress of the Centre since its inception in 2016.
The Centre’s development has benefitted greatly from the support of The Open University's Law and Business Schools, the Vice Chancellor’s Executive and from the generosity of external partners who have provided invaluable advice, guidance and encouragement.
This report offers a summary of these pro bono and public engagement activities over the past 12 months and outlines their awards and research outputs. However, the best illustration of the success of the Centre is the commitment and engagement of the students, many of whom have described their experience in participating in the work of the Centre as being truly transformative.
Our prison project made front page of the July edition of the HMP High Down Prisoner Newsletter called “High Down Low Down”
The CIOs mentioned in the article are Community Information Orderlies – peer supporters trained by St Giles Trust who work on the prison house blocks providing vital advice, support and information to the men. The training that our students delivered is disseminated among the general population so it is especially useful. Maria McNicholl from St Giles Trust said "the main difference and advantage of our joint project is that the men and women you train get to help other prisoners so that the effectiveness goes beyond the individual and across the wider prison population".
The Wigan Observer covered our prison radio project in their recent July 30th issue.
E4J aims to facilitate and promote university-level teaching on issues related to UNODC’s mandate areas including anti-corruption, organised crime, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, counter-terrorism, cybercrime, crime prevention and criminal justice, firearms, as well as on integrity and ethics.
The Open Justice Centre has been working closely with UNODC to develop an online teaching resource to support the global roll-out of the E4J initiative. This is expected to be available in July for university lecturers worldwide to help with their teaching of integrity and ethics for the next academic year and beyond.
Open Justice is collaborating with former OU colleague Dr Nceku Nyathi, now at De Montfort University, who has implemented the E4J initiative while teaching in South Africa. The Centre welcomed Nceku and several Vienna-based UN colleagues to the OU during their recent visit to the UK. They are shown together with Hugh McFaul from the Open Justice Centre at a project meeting on campus in Milton Keynes.
Hugh has recently collaborated with UN colleagues at an anti-corruption conference in Florence, Italy, and they also plan to work together in promoting the initiative at the Global Alliance for Justice Education’s (GAJE’s) 10th Worldwide Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in December.
It’s fantastic to be involved in this Education for Justice initiative which has a potential global impact, as well as offering the opportunity to work on similar projects in the future with the UN. It’s a great vote of confidence for the Open Justice Centre and our online distance learning credentials following our successful project in 2018 with Advice UK to develop an online learning learning module in discrimination and human rights law training for charitiesHugh McFaul, Director of the Open Justice Centre
Encouraging a culture of the rule of law in schools and universities through the E4J initiative is one of four specific and inter-related components in UNODC’s wide-ranging Global Programme, which aims to make 2001’s Doha Declaration a reality. The others are strengthening judicial integrity and the prevention of corruption; fostering prisoner rehabilitation and social integration; and preventing youth crime through sports.
This four-year initiative promotes peaceful, corruption-free and inclusive societies for sustainable development, and aims to help countries achieve a positive and sustainable impact on criminal justice, corruption prevention and the rule of law.
Law students have been working with prison learners to record a series of radio programmes tackling legal issues, for broadcast on prison radio.
The pioneering project by the Open Justice Centre has just finished its second iteration at HMP Altcourse – a Category B men's private prison in Merseyside – and is expected to roll out to other prisons soon.
Six final-year students from the W360 Justice in Action module collaborated with prisoners to identify legal topics that mattered to the prisoners. These included human rights, release on licence to family, employment and housing law. The law students researched the topics, later returning to HMP Altcourse to record the 'Castaway' radio shows for broadcast to prisoners on Radio Altcourse.
Known as 'Legal Eagles', the project is the brainchild of the Open Justice Centre, which provides free legal advice to those who may struggle to access appropriate legal support through other means.
From February until the end of March, the students had regular access to the prison.
Hugh McFaul, Lecturer in Law and Chair of W360 Justice in Action, said: "This project is a reimagining of our core OU ideals, about being open to people, places and methods. We united two different groups of people, giving them experience of collaborating, with great educational benefits to both. The students and prisoners are both working on becoming positive contributors to local communities and wider society."
Sarah Couling was one of the students who took part. She said: "My perception of prison life has drastically changed. A custodial sentence with rehabilitation at the forefront is a wonderful thing. I gained so much from the experience and I am so truly grateful to have met these fine young men."
She added: "I fully support this type of prison programme and encourage anyone with the opportunity to engage with prisoners to jump in. Programmes like this are breaking down social barriers and creating positive social change. They help to change people's attitudes towards different people, shatter incorrect preconceived ideas about prisons, and benefit both students and prisoners alike."
The project is being implemented with NOVUS, an organisation which strives to educate offenders and raise their aspirations. NOVUS' Information, Advice and Guidance Worker Pete Tinsley said: "It can be hard for prisoners to find answers to specific legal questions – we have law books in the library but it can be daunting for many of the prisoners. The Legal Eagles are able to clear up their queries."
Legal Eagles is one of many student-led prison projects based around legal research and guidance. To date, the Open Justice Centre has run projects with over 70 students, serving prisoners in nine prisons across England and Wales.
The Open Justice Centre’s Law Clinic, which offers free online legal advice led by the OU students supervised by qualified solicitors, won the Best Legal Tech Contribution in the Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards.
They received their award at the ceremony at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 1st May 2019. The awards were hosted by High Court Judge, Sir Robin Knowles CBE, the awards were presented by the Attorney General, the Rt. Hon Geoffrey Cox MP QC and the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC MP.
This award is a wonderful recognition for all the hard work of the students and staff who have worked in the Law Clinic since it was launched in September 2017. This is a new category, and we are thrilled to be the first Law School to win this award. The award reflects the innovative way technology can be used to support access to justice.Francine Ryan, Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice Centre
The Open Justice Centre was represented at the awards by Francine Ryan, Director of the Law Clinic, Hugh Mcfaul, Module Chair of W360: Justice in Action, Liz Hardie, Student Experience Manager and a supervisor in the Law Clinic, Jon-Paul Knight, Open Justice Centre Manager and Sarah Couling, studying W360: Justice in Action and who works as a student advisor in the Law Clinic.
LawWorks is a charity committed to enabling access to justice through free legal advice.
The judges for the 2019 Awards were:
The awards are supported by:
First-class Law graduate CJ Burge was in prison when she earned her degree from The Open University. She now works for the St Giles Trust which collaborates with the Law School’s Open Justice Centre on prison education, as well as being a trustee of the Criminal Justice Alliance.
CJ was heavily pregnant when she was imprisoned in Japan for drug trafficking. After being transferred to the UK to finish her sentence, she embarked on her OU study journey. With no internet or computer access, she had to handwrite every assignment.
She was recently interviewed by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, about the purposes of imprisonment on Radio Four’s One to One.
The Open Justice Centre’s Law Clinic has been shortlisted in the LawWorks and Attorney General Student Awards 2019. This is in the ‘Best LegalTech Contribution’ for the awards which recognise and celebrate the outstanding pro bono work undertaken by law schools and law students across the UK.
The awards are run by LawWorks with the support of the Attorney General, The Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP. The awards ceremony is at the House of Commons in the Members’ Dining Room on Wednesday 1 May, hosted by His Honour Sir Robin Knowles CBE. The Attorney General will present the awards to the winners.
The Law Clinic offers free online legal advice led by OU students working collaboratively under the supervision of qualified solicitors. It was also highly commended at the LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards in early December 2018 in the ‘Best new pro bono activity’ category.
LawWorks is a charity committed to enabling access to justice through free legal advice. The judging panel for the LawWorks and Attorney General Student Awards are:
The Law School, which has fewer academics than any other school, has won two of the eight OU Teaching Awards (OUTAs) 2019. Both winners, the Open Justice Centre and Stephanie Pywell, have also been nominated by the OU for awards from the recently-formed Advance HE.
The Open Justice Centre won a Team Teaching Award for Excellence in Employability. Open Justice projects provide the opportunity for OU Law students to put their legal skills into practice to support their communities. These include a unique online advice clinic, UK-wide legal workshops in prisons and schools, court-based legal support projects, and the development of new legal technology applications to improve access to legal information, advice and guidance.
Liz Marr, Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Students), said:
“The panel felt that this was an inspiring project which demonstrated an exciting set of initiatives …….. A model OUTA submission which ticked all the boxes.”
The University has nominated the Centre for a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) from Advance HE (formed in 2018 through a merger of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education).
Amid the current Brexit debate and a century on from the infamous Battle of George Square in Glasgow, the rights of workers is definitely still a hot topic.
Free advice on employment law is available from the OU Law School’s Open Justice Centre from the start of February as its pro bono law clinic continues to expand.
The clinic, which was ‘highly commended’ in the recent LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards, provides free legal advice to the general public on a range of legal issues.
The ethos of our pro bono clinic is law students working with qualified solicitors to support members of the public to understand their legal rights. We’re delighted to announce the expansion of our clinic to deliver free employment law advice. For anyone having problems at work, the ability to access free employment law advice is incredibly important as it can be an extremely anxious and distressing time.Francine Ryan, Lecturer in Law and Director of the Open Justice Law Clinic
Coincidentally, The Open University in Scotland is holding a centenary open learning event on Thursday 31 January (12:00 – 13:30) to mark one of the most intense riots in the history of Glasgow. The Battle of George Square, also known as ‘Bloody Friday’ and ‘Black Friday’, saw striking workers violently clash with the local police in 1919. This revolt on the Clyde, backed by widespread strike action, revolved around the length of the working week and a campaign for shorter working hours.
Please visit here if you want to find out more about the legal advice available from the Open Justice Centre’s Law Clinic.
The Open Justice Centre and St Giles Trust attended an evening event at the Open University in October 2018 that brought together leading academics, practitioners and students from the Open University, St Giles Trust and Cambridge University;- all keen to share their research and experiences with a wider audience. It was followed by a question panel chaired by former Justice Minister (England), Sir Simon Hughes, to discuss this crucially important topic in the 21st century.
Hugh McFaul from the Open Justice Centre and Maria McNicholl from St Giles Trust talk about their ongoing collaborative work.
C.J Burge - OU Law alumni and SOS+ Project Manager at St Giles Trust talks about her experience of studying in prison.
The Open Justice Centre features in the 2017/2018 Open University Annual Report
The Open University (OU) Law School's Open Justice Centre’s Law Clinic is toasting its success at the LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards on Monday night (3 December 2018).
The Law Clinic, which offers free online legal advice led by OU students working collaboratively under the supervision of qualified solicitors, was highly commended in the ‘Best new pro bono activity’ category.
More than 250 finalists and guests from across the pro bono, advice, legal aid and charity sectors attended the awards evening at the Law Society in London. David Lammy MP, a vocal and successful campaigner for social justice, delivered the annual lecture and the event was hosted by radio and television presenter, producer and writer Matthew Stadlen.
The Open Justice Centre was represented by Keren Lloyd Bright who has responsibility for the prison projects, associate lecturer Andrew Maxfield who teaches on the ‘W360: Justice in Action’ module and Law alumnus Ken Ragon-Chambers who works as a student adviser in the Law Clinic.
The category winner was St Hilda’s East Legal Advice Clinic, while Working Families’ pro bono email ticketing platform was also highly commended.
This accolade is wonderful recognition for everyone’s hard work since the Law Clinic was launched in September 2017. We were delighted to be shortlisted and then to receive this commendation in such a tough category with some great competition is fantastic news.
The Law Clinic has already seen 50 of our very own law students offer free online advice sessions, supervised by qualified solicitors, to help the general public resolve their particular legal issue. These can range from contractual disputes to clinical negligence, civil litigation to building claims, and consumer rights to small claims. This helps promote the concept of ‘Open Justice’ with the Centre going from strength to strength since it was launched a little more than two years ago.Francine Ryan, Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice Centre
The OU Law School’s Open Justice Centre has developed a prototype online learning module in discrimination and human rights law training for charities.
This follows a five-month collaborative project earlier this year with AdviceUK, the UK’s largest network of independent social welfare advice organisations, which was funded by a £67,000 grant from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Law lecturers Hugh McFaul and Francine Ryan from the Open Justice Centre worked closely with Chilli Reid, Executive Director, and colleagues at AdviceUK on the ‘Improving lives through online learning for the advice sector: Discrimination and Human Rights’ project. They reviewed current training resources around discrimination and human rights law, and identified training needs for those working across the advice sector by engaging with a range of social welfare advice organisations.
This research informed the design of the prototype online learning module which comprises five hours of learning, developed by the OU’s Learning and Teaching Innovation (LTI), which is now available as ‘A practical guide to UK human rights and discrimination law’. All AdviceUK members have also received a briefing on discrimination and human rights resources.
Through the OU’s expertise in developing open access learning, and thanks to the generous funding from the EHRC, this innovative collaboration will support the capacity of AdviceUK and its member organisations to address discrimination and human rights law issues.
The project will make a significant contribution to improving access to justice across the advice sector. The feedback we received during testing was very positive and encouraging; we’re sure it will be a real support to these organisations.
Not only this, it offers the opportunity to act as an introductory course for the general public in these issues in a period of reduced access to free legal advice. It’s designed for the mass market and we’re hoping it will help many thousands of people over time.Hugh McFaul and Francine Ryan, Open Justice Centre
A resource developed in conjunction with AdviceUK members themselves which can be used both for advisers and provides legal education to the public is very welcome. It opens up learning opportunities to a wide audience; supporting access to justice around discrimination and human rights.Chilli Reid, AdviceUK’s Executive Director
The Open Justice Centre hopes the success of this project will act as a catalyst for increased grant funding to develop further accessible resources for the wider advice sector.
Please contact AdviceUK if you would like more information about the UK’s largest network of independent advice organisations, which has more than 650 members making up around 40% of the UK charitable advice sector.
Six Law students have received an Open Justice Award for their contribution to pro bono. Lidia Dancu and Lucy Nguyen shared the Open Justice Centre’s best individual contribution award, with Sharon O’Donnell, Lavinia Soobrayen, Christopher Stevens and Lindsey Porter winning the best group contribution award. The winners had taken part in Open Justice activities during the 17J presentation of ‘W360: Justice in Action’, making outstanding contributions to school-based legal education workshops and providing legal advice to the public in the Open Justice Clinic.
OU Law School students came from far and wide to benefit from an intensive weekend residential masterclass in street law from one of its gurus.
Street law, established in the 1970s, is where the law is made more accessible to secondary school pupils by students delivering sessions on topics such as human rights, social media law, and legal careers.
The collaboration between our Open Justice Centre, Middlesex University’s School of Law and the Law Society of Ireland was a three-day training workshop from 17-19 October which focused on their presentation and teaching skills.
Street law pioneer Professor Rick Roe from Georgetown University in Washington – also known for writing an episode of children’s favourite Sesame Street! – was the star attraction. Expert tuition was available to 25 Open Justice students who came from all over the country, while one even flew in from Rome for the weekend. They were accompanied by Hugh McFaul and Jon-Paul Knight from the Centre, with an identical number of students from hosts Middlesex also taking part.
What a confidence booster for our students who responded in a professional and enthusiastic way. They quickly developed really professional and improved styles of presenting and teaching skills over such a short time. It was also a great opportunity for both Jon-Paul and myself to spend time with our students in a productive setting.Hugh McFaul, Lecturer in Law (Pro Bono Initiative)
"I think the Street Law workshop has been the most valuable experience and connection with The Open University so far in my legal studies. This was my first time meeting other OU students and staff face-to-face, and it was great! I have learnt so much in just three days and I am very happy that I got the opportunity to do so.”
"The whole experience so far is extremely valuable to me. I appreciate and encourage the OU’s latest decision of providing students with pro-bono opportunities in their final year.”
"My most valuable experience or connection with The Open University so far is the exposure to a different way of thinking and the skill set you have to develop to be successful with your studies."
"I enjoyed meeting other students, not just from the OU, but from Middlesex University too. I surprised myself with how confident I became to be able to prepare and teach a short lesson with my partner. I was also able to take the feedback that I received and learn from it. I am very pleased that I was able to attend.”