Strategic Public Law Clinic
The Strategic Public Law Clinic (SPLC) is a joint initiative between Central England Law Centre (CELC) and Warwick LinC. It specialises in using public law strategically to address systemic disadvantage and achieve effective change. Students work with the Public Law and Human Rights team at CELC on a variety of projects that CELC would be unable to pursue without our students’ support.
Working in small groups, student volunteers receive supervision, guidance and mentorship from Karen Ashton Solicitor CELC's Head of Public Law and Human Rights alongside Dr Tara Mulqueen, Director of Warwick LinC.
Our projects are carefully selected to put legal learning into practice, find creative ways of using the law and develop leadership, communication and organisational skills in the social justice sector. Student volunteers are closely involved in devising and delivering project strategies, and not simply completing set tasks.
COVID-19: We have developed innovative and flexible ways of working, successfully adapting all of our recruitment and clinic work to be fully remote this year.
We had a range of exciting SPLC projects this year:
Mental Health Services in Coventry:
- Central England Law Centre is contracted to provide an independent advocacy service in Coventry to assist those who wish to make a complaint about NHS services. The advocate found that clients were raising issues about local mental health services which coalesced around some common themes, but the complaints investigation and resolution seemed to be solely focused on the individual case and that patient’s experience of dissatisfaction. We were concerned that this tendency could compromise the effectiveness of the complaints mechanism to improve service quality, which is one of its functions in the public sector.
- Our project team analysed issues raised in complaint cases about NHS mental health services. They then developed a strategy to support CELC’s complaints advocate including creating an easy-to-use reference tool to incorporate external quality benchmarks into individual complaints to address recurring issues in the quality of service, and a monitoring tool which can be used by the advocate to observe patterns over time. The strategy aims to improve the use of complaints by the health organisations concerned and influence change locally.
Public Awareness of Judicial Review:
Very few have even heard of ‘judicial review’ despite its vital role in protecting us against the abuse of power. The aim of this project was to start to tackle the task of raising public awareness in the Law Centre’s local communities, at a time when the effectiveness of judicial review is under threat. Our project team created an accessible fact sheet about judicial review and a series of real-life case studies of the impact it can have in helping to resolve everyday unfairness.
We also organised an event ‘Challenging public authorities – using law to tackle everyday unfairness’ which was attended by representatives from 34 local organisations. More information on the judicial review public awareness campaign can be found here: https://www.centralenglandlc.org.uk/Pages/Category/what-is-judicial-review
Assessing Systemic Issues in Universal Credit:
Universal Credit (UC) was introduced in 2012 as a new welfare benefits system which was to be administered largely online. This project looked in-depth at one aspect of the administrative process in which the Welfare Benefits Team at the Law Centre has observed irregularities with significant implications for claimants – the issuing of UC50 forms following a referral for a work capability assessment. If claimants did not receive the form, it was likely to indicate that they hadn’t been referred into the process for accessing all the benefits to which they were entitled. But they are unlikely to know to expect the form and so might never know that something had gone wrong.
Our project team undertook internet research to find publicly available information, submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the DWP and surveyed members of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA). Our research suggests that this is a significant national problem, and we identified a number of potential weaknesses in the administrative system which could be contributing to the problem including a lack of automation at key points; a lack of systematisation of key steps; and issues with the training materials disclosed by the DWP. In addition, there is a lack of appropriate safeguards in place when something goes wrong which has all the hallmarks of a systemic unfairness, which is unlawful in public law.
- We produced a report and recommendations to help influence change in the UC system and make it fairer for claimants. The report is now being used by a national organisation to advocate for changes through the Work and Pensions Committee and the DWP. A detailed and summary version of the report for the Universal Credit project can be accessed here: Final Report Summary Briefing Note
Analysing the Impact of Care Easements:
- The Coronavirus Act 2020 removed a swathe of key rights of those in need of adult social care through the use of ‘easements’. While the easements were only in effect for a short period of time where they were used, it appeared, anecdotally, that they had been used informally, creating potentially significant long-term impacts on adults with disabilities and their families.
- The aim of the project was to develop a framework to assist the Law Centre’s Health and Social Care team to identify patterns of impact on rights which may need tackling strategically. Our project team worked to identify key rights within the Care Act and anticipate how they could be impacted, and then created a draft digital tool to help identify and record the ongoing impact. This has been finalised and is now being used to uncover systemic and continuing issues which will help target resources as part of the Team’s new Rights in Peril project.
Some student feedback we received this year:
- "The project has helped me to develop my communication, presentation, and critical thinking skills, as well as my teamwork and strategic planning skills."
- "The project was much-needed encouragement to pursue a legal career in social welfare and legal aid, by providing a glimpse into what this work entails and how it helps."
- "I learnt more about how Human Rights functions in practice in the UK. We had no idea how the Care Act worked let alone how the pandemic would affect it. This is the first project(I’ve been involved in) that has taught me the practicalities of law in context."
- "[The Law Centre] ran a lot of interesting projects of the type I would like to hopefully run or be involved in during my career, so seeing this in action and in more detail was brilliant."
I must say thanks to everyone here. This whole piece of work makes me feel very proud. It really is fantastic that the law centre is in a place where we can take on the initial piece of litigation and then complete a piece of work that brings that legal victory into the real world in order to amplify its effect. Brilliant.- Michael Bates, Head of Services CELC Birmingham. Accessing student finance project
The volunteers and interns we have worked with have been dedicated, passionate and really eager to make positive change. It has been a pleasure working with them and we are very grateful for all of their contributions….. You listen and value our inputIRC Visitors’ Group Advocacy Co-ordinator
Strategic Public Law Clinic Internships
Each year we aim to offer paid internship positions over the summer break for interns to gain a more intensive, in-depth experience working on SPLC projects and ensure the valuable work of the clinic is able to continue all year round. Internships this year will be supported by the generous donations of alumni, donors and supporters of the University via the Warwick Innovation Fund. Visit this page for information on current opportunities and volunteering vacancies.
My internship has provided an invaluable opportunity to improve my legal and professional skills massively. I can now synthesise and structure large volumes of material quickly and easily, something that would have shell-shocked me before. I’ve learnt to solve problems in practice, prioritise and mange tasks and to express myself more concisely in written communication.
I’ve loved being around intellectual and professional role models, watching how they think and process information and make decisions in real time with real cases. You just don’t get that in lectures and seminars. More importantly, I’ve loved the freedom of this way of working, that I’m responsible for and trusted to solve problems and then justify to the team why I’ve done something in a certain way.
I am learning so much about opportunities for Public Law intervention, opportunities to intervene on behalf of the client and the need to watch how things are shaped by the news and what’s going on. Decisions impact on ordinary people and it’s important to hold authorities to account.
Summer 2020 intern