Uni steps up to offer legal advice as county courts face crisis

Staffordshire University is offering the public free legal advice as civil courts are hit by growing delays

Two students from the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic

The Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free support to the community

Access to justice is being hampered by the continued underfunding of County Courts. Buildings are underfunded, the technology being used isn’t up to scratch and they are trying to remove the human element. This makes it difficult for people, especially those without legal representation, to navigate the courts and obtain access to justice

Giles Gater, Senior Lecturer in Law

The Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) is staffed by the University's law students, with supervision and support from lecturers and qualified solicitors.

“Increasingly, people are struggling to get legal assistance because of legal aid cuts, court closures and expensive court fees,” explained Senior Lecturer Natasha Thomas, who manages the clinic.

“There are a number of areas in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent where families and communities face multiple issues such as unemployment, poor housing and poor quality of life. With these needs comes the need for legal advice.

“SULAC offers a valuable service to the local community but also provides invaluable practical experience to our students who are studying Law.”

The government’s Justice Committee recently launched an inquiry to examine long-standing concerns over court capacity and resources of the County Courts. Natasha and fellow lecturer Giles Gater – both solicitors – have submitted evidence to the inquiry based on their first-hand experience.

Giles said: “Access to justice is being hampered by the continued underfunding of County Courts. Buildings are underfunded, the technology being used isn’t up to scratch and they are trying to remove the human element. This makes it difficult for people, especially those without legal representation, to navigate the courts and obtain access to justice.”

County Courts deal with civil cases which impact many members of the public including housing, family, personal injury and workplace disputes. Statistics from 2023 show that such cases are facing increased delays, with average waiting times for small claims to go to court taking over a year. People are also being impacted by high court fees, particularly for money claims.

“Growing delays impact everyone involved including witnesses, and solicitors. This can create a lot of anxiety for people involved in lawsuits and can consume a huge amount of time and money,” explained Giles.

“The lack of recoverable costs on small claims means that access to a solicitor is not possible for many litigants. People have genuine cases but fewer firms are willing to take on the work because it’s not viable.”

He added: “As a consequence, many people resort to representing themselves or dismiss making a claim all together.”

“This is where SULAC comes in,” Natasha said. “So that people can get the right legal advice to decide what is best before progressing with a civil legal case or not.”

Find out more about the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic and how to book an appointment.

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