I am a 29 year old pupil barrister awarded £14,000 to train in immigration and asylum, employment, housing, and family law.
There is no typical day at work in my job, but generally I will be following someone to court or doing paperwork which includes research and drafting advice, statements of case, grounds of appeal, grounds of judicial review, and skeleton arguments. In the second half of my pupillage I will have my own cases. So, with the support of my supervisor, I will be representing people in court or in tribunals. Our supervisors are not paid any extra to train us.
Nearly all of the clients my chambers serves are on a low income and many are facing a huge range of difficulties. Among many cases, I have helped a 16 year old boy with a tough family background charged with drug dealing offences. He got a second chance through a stringent community order rather than detention, thanks to great work from probation and a sympathetic judge as well as good advocacy (it’s great when the team works to try to help kids!). I also assisted a factory worker who suffered years of vicious bullying. In that case the judge heavily criticised the firm for allowing a culture of “gay banter” in the workplace. I also assisted an Afghan asylum seeker who would have been seriously hurt or killed if sent back to Afghanistan. The judge agreed, and he now has asylum.
Not one of these people would have received the protection due to them under the law and under a basic sense of humanity without the help of their legal advisors and representatives. These are cases where the stakes are incredibly high – they literally have life-ruining consequences if things go wrong. This is what legal aid solicitors and barristers work to prevent.
It’s not possible to survive on my pupillage award alone. I’ve often gone hungry and am unable to buy anything but the most basic necessities or cope with any emergency spending requirements (e.g. my bike got stolen, and I have never been able to replace it). I still haven’t been able to afford any practitioners texts, my wig and gown, or to start paying back my student loan.
I believe the cuts to legal aid will fundamentally undermine access to justice and the rule of law. They strike at the very heart of what is good in our society – the protection afforded to the rights of the most vulnerable.