government changed the compensation scheme. A recent development has been an increase in Data Protection Act claims, where the police have released information that they shouldn’t have about somebody.” The current political climate presents serious challenges to solicitors working in civil liberties, particularly in securing funding from the Legal Aid Agency for otherwise meritorious cases. “We are in an age of austerity where cuts in legal aid funding have made resources far scarcer,” Susie observes. “The lack of any increase to rates in many years also works as a real-terms cut.” I work on civil claims against the police and public authorities, for example, inquests involving deaths in prison or police custody, or in other forms of state detention, such as mental health detention The result of the cuts driven through by the austerity agenda of the last three successive governments has been that “the number of people eligible for legal aid has been drastically reduced,” she explains. “This is to the point where even a student’s maintenance loan will be considered ‘income’ that makes their case ineligible for funding, which seems bizarre given that student loans have to be repaid. Access to justice is a massive challenge for most people, because unless you are rich and have the resources to pay, or your income is so low that you are eligible for legal aid funding, you will be among the majority of people in the middle who cannot afford to address wrongs when they happen to you. Securing public funding for cases is also incredibly tedious and bureaucratic, and while legal aid is not always the only means
Human rights law has long been a popular choice for students and practitioners, with universities increasingly offering human rights modules as part of their law degrees, and ever more firms and chambers boasting specialisms in the field. It covers a wide range of legal matters, but broadly refers to the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the Human Rights Act 1998, which made the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) directly enforceable in the UK courts. For civil liberties specialist Susie Labinjoh, a career in law presented a way to make a positive difference: “When I finished my philosophy degree, I was looking everywhere for jobs – there aren’t many for philosophers, as you can imagine – and I saw job advert for a mixed administrative and HR role at Hodge Jones & Allen. I joined the firm and saw what the solicitors were doing – how they could change clients’ lives – and thought ‘I really want to do that’.” Determined to become a solicitor, Susie continued working while studying the GDL in the evenings part time, before going full time for the LPC. She then secured a training contract at the firm: “My previous role did not mean that there was an easy way in, though. I still had to complete the usual application process.” Miscarriages of justice Civil liberties work encompasses many different areas of law. Broadly, Susie’s practice centres on miscarriages of justice and wrongdoing by the state. “I work on civil claims against the police and public authorities, for example, inquests involving deaths in prison or police custody, or in other forms of state detention, such as mental health detention,” she explains. “My work also includes judicial reviews and compensation claims for miscarriages of justice – something I used to do much more of before the
For more firms that work in this practice area, please use the “Training contract regional indexes” starting on p197.
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