IWD Post – Kathleen Laverty

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

A very happy International Women’s Day to all our members. Looking back on my career I was very fortunate to have a supportive, encouraging and fun all female launch pad. My traineeship was with a small sole practitioner practice with a woman at the helm who had only recently set up her practice all the while juggling the responsibility and workload of four young children on her own. All the other staff were also women.  My first high court experience was with a female advocate who was inspiring. Since then the majority of my bosses have been women who were excellent in their field, eager to share their knowledge and experience and good roles models.  But I didn’t have to cast my gaze very wide to notice that it was mostly men in charge. The majority of judges were men, the sheriff court common room was not somewhere I felt I belonged, men were in the majority when looking at partners in the bigger firms. While these figures have improved in the past 40 years much work remains to be done to achieve equality.  Only 26% of judges in the supreme court are women and 22% of sheriffs are women. Until the judiciary reflects our population our justice system will not operate as it should and this refers not only to gender but race, disability, class and other identities suffering discrimination.

My first experience of bias in a legal role took place very early in my career. The appointment with this client was the shortest one I ever experienced. He came for advice about his upcoming criminal trial. He was in his seat for less than a minute when he said “I wasn’t expecting to see a lassie”. He then walked out without waiting for a reply – maybe just as well! You can imagine the many retorts I dreamed up if only I’d had the chance! He probably made the right choice as I was very inexperienced at the time, but for the wrong reasons!

I now work with a fantastic team of women and with many fantastic promising students who value equality and will continue to change the legal landscape for the better. So for me International Women’s Day is about celebrating women’s achievements across the globe, thanking those who have worked so hard to break the bias so far and encouraging those who continue their work in breaking the bias for the future benefit of us all.

On International Women’s Day we also have to turn our minds to the women of Ukraine facing the fear and violence that war brings. This affects women protecting themselves, their children and loved ones, those on the front line alongside or as part of the army and those subject to sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Bt Kathleen Laverty, Clinic Director

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the legal sector’s role in addressing climate change

Paige Alexander, Student Advisor at the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic, wrote this piece at the end of last year for a Brodies LLP writing competition. The piece had to be on ‘the legal sector’s role in addressing climate change’. Paige came runner-up in the competition and has shared her piece with the Clinic for us to publish. Well done again Paige!

(Paige Alexander, Student Advisor)

The legal sector can no longer turn a blind eye to the impending climate emergency. The mere implementation of eco-friendly office measures is no longer sufficient. Law firms must utilise their influence within society to induce impactive change. Firms need to adopt a proactive approach at an operational level. They must strive to create a legal sphere, where every contract in law creates a solution to the climate crisis. To pave the way for decarbonisation, a climate conscious framework must be at the heart of our daily practice.

In light of COP26, the legal sector is under society’s burning spotlight of scrutiny. Yet, many law firms remain blissfully ignorant to the climate emergency. This approach likely stems from their apprehension surrounding operational change. However, firms can catalyse effectual change simply by letting their lawyers be lawyers. All lawyers can mitigate the climate crisis by accepting their moral responsibility and using their existing skills to yield a practical response. Many lawyers are exceptional communicators, enabling them to create a narrative, which guides clients to understand complex concepts. Firms must encourage their employees to utilise these skills to champion net-zero, both internally and externally. Subsequently, generating imperative societal support, for extensive changes required to cut carbon emissions and tackle the climate emergency.

An effective response to the climate emergency, requires firms to engage in pro-bono work, beyond client cases. The organisations championing constructive change are grossly underfunded. Therefore, many legal violations concerning climate change are not considered due to a lack of legal resources. Pro-bono litigation is required to enable influential precedent to be established. Firms must invest their resources in extensive research for prospective climate legislation. This would create momentum for the passing of necessary statutory regimes. Law firm’s investment into tackling the climate crisis is in their client’s best interests. If unprevented, climate change will have severe repercussions for society, business and the wider economy. Therefore, failure to respond to the climate emergency, would be detrimental to clients and the legal profession in the long term.

Law firms can effectively respond to the climate emergency through client-lawyer communication. As trusted advisors, lawyers are in an exceptional position to share key knowledge with clients, which may impact their decisions. Firms should ensure that employees demonstrate climate awareness when advising clients. Lawyers are integral to the highly respected legal profession. Subsequently, legal teams are best placed to advise clients on what action they must take, at a corporate level, to mitigate the effect of the climate emergency. To successfully respond to the climate emergency, firms must be prepared to challenge client’s hostility towards the alignment of business strategies with net zero. This requires employees to have an overarching knowledge of the climate crisis.

Law firms can effectuate change through every contract they draft. Firms must promote climate aligned contracting. This involves the inclusion of climate clauses in contracts, which promote eco-friendly operations and endorse climate awareness. Climate aligned contracting is in the client’s best interest. It enables businesses to take the lead by transitioning to net zero operations. This approach is unlikely to be met with resistance, as amidst the climate emergency, commercial clients are already demonstrating their commitment to tackling the climate crisis. Climate aligned contracting enables firms to deliver rapid practical action and expeditiously respond to the climate emergency, without having to wait for Government to enact laws.

Law firms must assess their clientele when responding to the climate emergency. The legal sector has the power to effectively tackle the climate crisis or markedly inhibit the movement. Many law firms represent the wrong side of this issue, with their number-one clients being leading polluters. Lawyers are hired to mitigate risks and the climate emergency is an imperative risk that they must make clients aware of. In their response to the climate emergency, law firms have been seen to withdraw from representing clients who are opposed to net zero operations. Encouraging client decisions which are injurious to our planet will undoubtedly be met with distaste from society. This would negatively impact the reputation of a firm and the legal profession. Firms should consider implementing policy which permits refusal of representation for pro-pollution clients. They must recognise the long-term benefits which arise from this short-term discomfort.

Ultimately, law firms must produce practical responses to the climate emergency through pro-bono work, climate aligned contracting and the assessment of their clientele. Voltaire once said: ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’. Law firms must accept this responsibility and respond expeditiously to the imminent climate emergency.

By Paige Alexander, Student Advisor

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Working as a team

(Katie’s working from home space)

Katie Edwards is a graduate-entry Scots Law LLB student and member of Strathclyde Law Clinic. She took on her first case this year which involved supporting a client through the process of making a successful unfair dismissal claim against his employer. She talks about the experience of her first case and how the advisors on the case worked well together as a team.

During the summer of this year, I joined my two co-advisers, Cara Hope and Laura Nicol, on an unfair dismissal case with an upcoming employment tribunal. I was thrilled to have my first case but slightly apprehensive about what it might entail. Although the clinic provides thorough training on handling cases and all activity is supervised by a qualified solicitor, the feeling of responsibility for the client’s situation combined with the desire to ensure the best possible outcome meant that some of the tasks felt a bit daunting at first.

Fortunately, myself and my co-advisors had differing levels of experience and could learn from each other. Cara has led various cases and manages the Initial Advice Clinic (IAC) sessions, whilst Laura had completed some online cases and was advising on a number of other cases at the time. By contrast, my legal experience consisted of shadowing some IACs and watching Suits on a regular basis. Despite this disparity, we worked seamlessly as a team as we recognised that each of us had a unique skillset and naturally found a routine throughout the duration of the case. Due to the nature of my job outside of the clinic, I was comfortable obtaining witness statements and writing formal letters whilst Cara led the client meetings, took instructions, delegated the workload and later represented the client at tribunal with the administrative support of Laura and myself. Laura was the first to respond to client queries, arrange meetings, remind us of imminent deadlines or enthusiastically take on any less glamorous tasks such as spending an afternoon with me working through payslips, P60s and calculations for a counter Schedule of Loss. With the reassurance of my co-advisors and our supervisor, I was guided through the completion of general casework and quickly became confident writing letters to various parties, creating document bundles and negotiating a settlement prior to the tribunal.

Throughout the summer we all had commitments outside of the clinic, which meant that we had to regularly communicate regarding handovers, deadlines and next steps. Due to this, there were opportunities for Laura and I to gradually take on more responsibility, culminating in Laura briefing the client pre-tribunal and myself leading the post-tribunal client meeting. Without delving into the specifics of the case, our client was reliable and understanding throughout the process but the respondent was more challenging. Teamwork became fundamental in managing relations with the respondent and responding to last minute changes in representation, offers of settlement and rescheduled hearings.

In summary, taking on a case at the clinic provides an invaluable insight into life as a practicing solicitor. Tight deadlines, challenging respondents and unexpected changes will never disappear, so quickly building rapport and communicating effectively with your co-advisors is a must. 

Takeaways / Tips

  • Be honest about the time you can commit to a project and your level of experience so that you and your team can work out a routine that works best for everyone.
  • Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Your team will be there to support you, and the benefit of working with others who have more experience than you is that you can ask questions and learn from them.
  • Know your teammates. Everyone has a valuable plethora of skills and qualities. Find out what motivates your group members, what their strengths are and what they want to gain experience in. If you take the time to do this, then you’ll find that you can share ideas and feedback to each other more effectively.

Katie Edwards, Student Advisor

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(Cara Hope, Student Advisor and IAC Coordinator)

Student advisor and IAC coordinator, Cara Hope, talks about her experience of in person hearings versus virtual hearings. Cara has represented many clients during her time in the clinic and she recognises that both forms of hearings can have their perks and flaws.

Having attended over 15 hearings in the past two years, I have had the valuable opportunity of experiencing virtual, telephone, hybrid and in-person hearing formats. Although attending an in-person hearing in June 2021 was a thrilling experience after being completely online for a year, my personal bias is to virtual hearings which I can attend from the comfort of my own home.

My first hearing took place in-person, so when the coronavirus pandemic struck and all judicial services moved to a remote format, there was a heightened sense of panic. Hearings can be very stressful and attending under a new format for the first time can add to this.

Largely, there are two main ways of attending a remote hearing: telephone or by video platform. The Employment Tribunal tends to use Cloud Video Platform (CVP) which is generated by the Ministry of Justice in order to hold full evidential hearings. Whereas the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) prefer using Microsoft Teams. Personally, I prefer using CVP as I find the platform far easier to interact with and to see all members on the call.

On the one hand, a negative of remote representation for myself comes down to using the phone. Telephone conferences are very beneficial for straightforward situations such as preliminary hearings or case management discussions, as used by the SSSC, ET, Housing and Property First-tier Tribunal and Sheriff Court. When used for a full hearing, or when any amount of significant submissions are required, however, it can add a very tricky layer to the proceedings as you miss the non-verbal cues you are able to receive on video platform or real-life. This does not mean to say that CVP comes without its flaws, I can’t begin to count the time wasted through technical difficulties.

When compared with my own other top comparator, of attending hearings in-person, virtual hearings have significant advantages. Firstly, there is no need to worry about travel time which allows preparation to continue all the way up until 10am, when proceedings typically commence. Secondly, all documents and notes are available to me in the exact place I left them, on my desk. A hidden positive not many consider, is also the advantage of home comforts. This includes being able to have a pair of slippers on my feet instead of high heels, and endless coffee mere steps away. I have also found it easier to focus on the proceedings at hand, taking away the added distraction of having to adapt to new surroundings.

However, client interaction during a hearing is very different when taking place remotely. Hearings are particularly stressful for clients, and it can be difficult to convey as much empathy and support from afar, compared to having the client by your side. This has raised its own challenges over the past year, although, a little bit extra preparation ahead of a hearing can go a long way to provide the additional support for a client to take comfort in. Being able to provide a client with full support through the process is easier in person, and I would favour the traditional methods for that reason.

Overall, the adaptation of the justice system to proceed remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic was largely successful. I have seen clients wait months for a final hearing date to be set due to backlogs at the beginning of the pandemic, but thankfully now this appears to have resolved. I enjoy the plenty benefits CVP allows, still have a distaste for telephone hearings and very much looking forward to hopefully returning more often to in-person hearings, particularly in order to provide better support for my clients.

Cara Hope, student advisor and IAC coordinator

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Review: Emma Jones and Anna Kawalek, ‘Dissolving the stiff upper lip: Opportunities and challenges for the mainstreaming of therapeutic justice in the United Kingdom’

I want to start this review with a large question: what is the purpose of law? I am drawing a distinction here between law and laws, singular and plural, because it is easier to imagine what the purpose(s) of laws themselves are. In the singular, however, law takes on the character of a monad: in broad terms, an (almost) essential idea, concept, or whole identifiable without specific material form (see Leibniz’s Monadology, for those interested). The law is conceptually omnipresent, derived, depending on perspective, from nature, from social interaction, or from necessity, but in all cases with some sort of regulatory function.

The reason I begin here is because therapeutic justice offers the opportunity to reimagine the law in a way that ‘validates the consideration of law’s impact upon psychological and emotional wellbeing’ (76). By centring affect, it allows a reflection not just on the skills of practitioners and the logics of client cases, but instead a recognition of the meaningful relationships of care that develop within legal spaces. Jones and Kawalek invite UK legal communities to interrogate the ‘perceived rationality of “thinking like a lawyer”, often interpreted as requiring emotions and feelings to be disregarded or suppressed’ (77), upending a supposed predilection against emotional indifference. They suggest two avenues for how ‘[therapeutic justice] can be incorporated into legal education. Firstly, as a discrete topic area[; s]econdly, by using [its] approach[es] to teaching and learning […] throughout […] the law school curriculum’ (77). They view clinical legal settings as particularly conducive.

Already, despite the purported rationality of the law, emotive terms enter legal determinations in decisive ways. Consider that judges require to be satisfied – an unequivocally affective term – of propositions and arguments and that client experiences can be more about principle than substance, about affront rather than material consequence. It seems worthwhile, therefore, to explicitly explore affect in the law, rather than simply gloss over it. Of course, this necessarily creates a space of antagonism with the ‘[t]raditional UK legal norms of objectivity, impartiality[,] and rationality’ (80). As legal communities increasingly address systemic, structural, and institutional biases, however, interrogating whether these norms are actually present or just assumptive labels papered over dominant perspectives is imperative. Less dramatically, ‘growing interest in non-adversarial dispute resolution’ (80), which require manifestly different communication and relational skills, makes having an understanding of the complex intersections of psychology and law entirely practical. Jones and Kawalek offer persuasive case studies throughout their article.

Instead of simply regulatory, what if the law could be seen ‘in a richer way by pondering the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic impact of “legal landscapes” (legal rules and procedures) and of the “practices and techniques” (legal roles) of actors such a lawyers, judges, and other professionals’ (Wexler 2014, cited on 82)? If the law adopts a mediatory role, cognisant and appreciative of the multiple dimensions of affective relationships between the legal systems and participants, and, indeed, between participants themselves, there is a chance that it is not just judges who will find themselves satisfied.

Exemplary quotations:

‘Incorporating [therapeutic justice] within clinical legal education would thus enable it to be considered both within the development of lawyering skills, but also in relation to ethics and values in a way which applies the abstract to concrete experience.’ (79)

‘What is clear is that non-adversarialism is becoming more prevalent within legal spheres across the British Isles. Increasingly, there is a need to move towards a system encompassing the therapeutic ideal, especially in cases involving vulnerable individuals. It is also clear is that this change needs to exist on a broader level than simply the practices themselves, and instead should be anchored in a therapeutic legal or political climate.’ (82)

Review by Arün Smith, Student Advisor

Full citation: (2019) 63 International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 76 <http://oro.open.ac.uk/55736/3/55736.pdf> (Open Access)

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This peice was written by Law Clinic alumn, Murray Kemp, after volunteering as a ‘Border Violence Reporter’ for No Name Kitchen from September to November 2021. Murray reports on his time at the Serbian-Croatian border, particularly his time in the town of Šid.

*some graphic images are contained in this piece.

An eyewitness report on the forgotten Afghan men stranded along the Western Balkan Route.

The transient nature of the squats is evident as soon as you arrive. Piles of rubbish are strewn everywhere, mosquitoes and flies taking their pick of the scabies-ravaged skin and discarded refuse on offer. The men wear a mix of traditional Afghan clothes and handouts, swapping the former for the latter when wear sets in. It’s lunchtime in an informal refugee settlement in Serbia, hidden in the forests just a few kilometres from the border with Croatia. Apart from the well-kept tents that the men sleep in, or the matted prayer area facing east towards Mecca, the place is a mess. To clean up would mean admitting defeat, the men accepting that they are going to be staying there longer than the few days they all hope and pray for. Yet many do stay for much longer.  One young man, 19-year-old Mirhab*, has just returned from a three-month absence after he was run over by a truck, leaving him in a coma. He receives a hero’s welcome when he returns from hospital, smiles and long sleeves hiding the shredded skin of his arms and legs. He hopes this is just a minor setback, and that he won’t join the number that have seemingly been there forever. Armed police, drones, dogs, every tool in the vast arsenal of the EU border regime stands between them and their goal. The longest staying resident we spoke to had been there for over four years.

Sid Picture 2

In May 2021, after the bloody collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the European Union’s flimsy reassurances of safety evaporated along with their Joint Way Forward deal facilitating the return of refugees. For a select few within the country, crammed aboard evacuation flights from Kabul Airport, this meant salvation. But for those who had already left, halfway to Europe in the human flow of international migration routes, salvation was still a long way off. Despite assurances from European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, that Europe had a “moral duty” to help Afghan refugees, the political consensus of ‘Fortress Europe’ remains, keeping them as far from EU borders as possible. With most of Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours struggling under their own socioeconomic problems and unwilling to accept the burdens imposed upon them by the EU, this leaves the long journey to Europe by land as the only realistic chance of escape for the millions of Afghans fleeing war and persecution. The myriad of pathways that make up this route are treacherous. One such passage, commonly termed the ‘Western Balkan Route’, consists of the cross-land journey through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, into the EU border at Croatia, through Slovenia, to the relative safety of Italy or Austria. In the early years of this pathway, crossings were relatively easy. But in 2016, amidst media uproar over the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ and cowed by the rise of far-right populist parties, the widespread closure of borders and the hasty agreement of a €6 billion deal between the EU and Turkey led the then President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to proclaim that “irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkan Route have come to an end”. According to the politicians of the West, the Balkan Route was closed. Yet thousands still attempt it to this day, through tougher and less well travelled pathways. One such route leads through a medium-sized town on the Serbia-Croatia border, a town called Šid.

I went to Šid (pronounced Sheed) from September to November 2021 as a volunteer with No Name Kitchen, a horizontally-structured NGO providing aid to displaced people throughout the Balkans. Based out of a living and working space in the centre of town, volunteers come from far and wide to provide daily food, showers, and medical support to the hundreds of people camped in informal settlements in the surrounding area. Though inspiring and powerful, this sense of international solidarity is met with steely resistance. From the moment of their arrival, volunteers live under the overbearing, ominous presence of the Serbian police force. Tailing them in their van, lying in wait for them at distribution sites, the threat is constant. Although the provision of aid is not illegal, the proximity to the border and a prevailing anti-immigrant sentiment give the dark blue uniformed authorities an effective carte blanche to criminalise actions as they see fit. In the past, volunteers had been prosecuted on falsified charges, expelled from the country, even physically attacked. Intimidation is the order of the day. “We felt that we were doing nothing wrong, but they were treating us like a threat,” Mariona, one of the volunteers, recounted. She was arrested along with two others during my stay while assessing reports of a mass influx of cold, desperate refugees into Majdan, a tiny border town in the agricultural heartlands of northern Serbia. After being detained, frisked, and interrogated by special police units, their IDs and notebooks were inspected and photographed before they were driven out of town and told never to return. “It made me think how the people must feel this way, from the moment they leave their countries and begin their life on the move”.

Parallel with the state, much of the dirty work in Šid is done by a less visible, shadowy network of far-right organisations. Fascist paramilitary units from the ultra-nationalist Chetnik movement guard the areas surrounding official camps, stopping people from leaving and preventing access for aid organisations. A group called Omladina Šida (Youth in Šid) posts online statements and holds regular flag-waving protests against the town’s refugee population. One statement on Facebook warned that “neither migrants nor volunteers should be able to walk the streets”, and that locals should call the police if they saw them. Another, issued after the arrival of eight busloads of people to the official camps in Šid following evictions in northern Serbia, warned that people would have “nothing better to do than expel migrants from their homes and gardens” and that they could “resist or not exist”. An atmosphere of fear surrounds the town. Nationalist graffiti is common, swastikas and skulls spray-painted on crumbling walls alongside traditional Serbian crosses. Refugees seldom enter alone, preferring the safety in numbers afforded by travelling in groups.

Sid Picture 3

As well as general duties preparing for distributions, my role within No Name Kitchen was a Border Violence Reporter. As part of the wider Border Violence Monitoring Network, I conducted interviews, took photographs, and compiled reports on incidents of police violence. There was a lot to cover. Each night, hundreds try ‘the game’ – a deceptively cheerful codeword created by refugees for the often-harrowing border crossing attempts. Those who play are known as ‘passengers’, and whether by sneaking into trucks, taxis, trains, or walking if they have no money to pay smugglers, the game presents their only road to safety and freedom. But the idyllic planes and forests around Šid hold hidden brutality. The flat ground and open fields make it easy to spot groups of passengers walking around. Police and the paramilitaries work in tandem, patrolling the lands in search of their prey. In forests and fields far from town they launch their attacks. Tents are slashed, belongings destroyed, batons reign down on defenceless bodies. Smoke regularly fills the air where informal encampments have been doused with petrol and set alight. Guns are pointed in faces, bullets shot through water tanks and into the air. Dogs tear chunks out of malnourished limbs. On the other side of the border, the threat continues far into the EU. Croatian special police forces patrol deep into the interior, picking up passengers and dumping them illegally back over the border into Serbia in what are known as push-backs. After every attack, once the men had returned we did our best to help pick up the pieces, dressing wounds, taking reports, and replacing belongings that had been destroyed. The stories all painted a similar, chilling picture, differing only in the levels of brutality exercised in them. “They beat you. They smash your phones. They take your money, your clothes, your bags,” 22-year-old Javad told us. “They leave you to freeze. They punish you in different ways”.

Far from the relative comfort of the town’s three government-run camps, which although cramped and underfunded, provide a roof, healthcare and three daily meals to anyone willing to register and help out with cleaning duties, the best chance at the game means a move to the informal settlements. Here, passengers sleep in tents or abandoned buildings just a few hundred metres from the border. The network of migration channels funnel people by their nationality, depending on personal connections and the ethnicity of those in charge. In Šid, this meant mainly Afghans. Men are usually sent ahead, braving the dangerous journey alone in the hope of reaching their destination and applying for reunion visas for their family. The journey isn’t safe for lone women. Only one was ever witnessed by the volunteers I met, and her brief stay soon became the stuff of legend. The atmosphere when we arrived at the squats each day was one of welcoming and happiness. But the horrors of home were never too far from conversation. Messy war wounds and infected cuts interspersed with neat rows of knife wounds, self-harm scars betraying an alternate reality. Mention of the wars brought a solemn mood. One young man, 19-year-old Mohammed, lost a brother in the Kabul Airport terror attack when we were there. He took a knife to his arm afterwards, sticking it so deep that it broke through each layer of skin. When we dressed the wound the day after he laughed it off, mimicking stabbing himself. He shrugged in resignation, as if to say, this is just the normal way of things. Throughout my stay Mohammed slowly deteriorated, each failed border attempt, each push-back, and each beating drawing him further and further inside himself.

Sid Picture 4

For the other tough yet damaged men of the squats, the scars of the past were worn inside. Stuck in a pressure cooker with border police creeping in from every side, the memories of home take on new dimensions of trauma. One young man, Abdul, was known as the greatest dancer in the squats. Always smiling, on his own or with a willing partner he would dance for hours, spinning and twisting beautifully to the sound of Pashto music pumping out of a beaten-up old speaker. One day, after knowing him for a while, he beckoned me over to look at his phone. Flicking through light-hearted TikToks – a common replacement for conversation to account for language difficulties – he paused on one. Different from the others, it showed bodies wrapped in sheets being loaded into a 4×4 in the dusty desert of Afghanistan. A man walked into the frame, a dazed and distant look on his face. “This is my brother”, Abdul remarked, staring intently at the screen. I noticed something strange about the brother’s arm. Looking closer, I realised it had been severed just below the shoulder. He was holding it, drenched in blood, in a cross-armed position. Abdul looked on in silence. After this there was no more dancing for the day, and he retreated into the bushes, no longer smiling. One of his friends told us, “for one hour each day, he is happy. The rest, like this.”

Good news in Šid came in rare but big doses. After countless attempts, the lucky and determined amongst the passengers began to evade capture and make it across the borders. On video calls back to the friends who had yet to make it, their faces showed pure elation, optimism at the chance of a new life that had been their foremost desire for years. Most went to Belgium, Germany, or France. I asked one group if any of them planned to go to the UK. “No”, they laughed in unison, explaining the difficulties of crossing the English Channel. “This border, big problem”. After so long spent locked outside the gates of the EU, the relief after reaching a safe haven and the endpoint of their long, harrowing journey was overpowering. Yet for some, Šid remains their final destination. One evening, stuck in a traffic jam on the way back from Novi Sad, I got the call that one of the men at the squats, 22-year-old Khalid, had been run over by a train. Exhausted and with nowhere comfortable to sleep, he had lain down on the tracks before attempting to sneak into an adjacent line of trucks heading out of town. After receiving a message of distress from his friends, some of the other volunteers went along to assist. They found the Serbian police lying in wait along the road leading to the tracks, more concerned with catching the others than helping. The officers demanded that they go first. When they found Khalid, moved to the side of the tracks and covered with a blood-soaked jacket, he was no longer breathing. “This migrant is kaput,” the officers said, kicking his lifeless body like a discarded plastic bag. Facing hostility up until his final breaths, he joins the countless number of displaced people who have died before reaching their promised destinations. Khalid had survived the war zones of Afghanistan, but he couldn’t survive Šid.

Sid Picture 5

Šid is far from an anomaly. The small snapshot outlined above, although bleak, presents a familiar story played out daily in the thousands of other border focal points spread across the world. A few weeks after I returned home to Glasgow, I saw on the news that thirty people had died in one attempt at crossing the English Channel, just kilometres from British Soil. Far from the unfamiliar expanses of the Balkans, these deaths are occurring right in the heartlands of wealthy Europe. The international border regime, designed to keep people in their place and profits on the move, is massacring people right on our doorstep. The blame may be heaped on smugglers, but they are merely a symptom of the wider rot that has spread across the world, a rot slowly eroding our humanity with the creeping rise of the far right, the militarisation of borders, and the criminalisation of humanitarian aid. In the name of the UK, the EU, and other hallowed institutions that so many liberals and leftists defend, these ramparts show the hard face of the relative comfort which they enclose. After being bitten by a police dog and unable to walk, one young man, an Afghan army soldier who had fled after being abandoned by coalition forces, voiced to me his anguish at the harshness of it all. “I want to go to Europe. I want to study. I want to sing”. For other Afghans like him, other Syrians, and the many other victims of war, climate change, and economic ruin who are spread across the world, journeys along routes such as the one through Šid show no sign of ending anytime soon. The people I met there are amongst the most inspiring I have ever met, far stronger and more resourceful than any right-wing politician, CEO, or business leader spouting the supposed benefits of anti-immigrant politics. Despite the vast defences encircling it, despite the states united against them, Europe still offers a safe haven for them and their families. But first, they have to get there.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

By Murray Kemp, Law Clinic Alumn and Volunteer ‘Violence Border Reporter’ for No Name Kitchen


The Destitute Asylum Seeker Service (DASS) project came to an end on 30 November 2021. The law clinic was a partner of the project since it began in 2015. The partnership was led by Refugee Survival Trust and included Scottish Refugee Council and British Red Cross, among others.

The law clinic’s role within the partnership was to help people get a better understanding of their legal position and empower them to progress their claims with their solicitors.

Over the duration of the project, the clinic met with over 250 referrals and opened over 70 cases. Many new claims were submitted, granting 31 people status. A further 11 claims have been submitted and await an outcome.

During the project, many student advisers volunteered their time, including six project coordinators. They ran public legal education sessions on Scots law for asylum seekers and refugees. They performed forum theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe to raise public awareness of the problems facing destitute asylum seekers in the UK. During lockdown, they adapted the forum theatre into a short film for St Andrews Fair Saturday. Above all, they all worked incredibly hard to secure the best outcomes for clients. Many have continued working with refugees at home and abroad.

While we celebrate the successes for some of our clients, we also remember their difficult journeys to get there, and the many people who remain in limbo. This is particularly the case at Christmas, knowing that while many prepare to spend time with loved ones, many others face another year of poverty and isolation.

One way to help people in this situation over Christmas, and in the New Year, would be to donate to Refugee Survival Trust’s Winter Travel Appeal. This gives people in this situation some respite by helping them connect with others:

These aren’t just tickets for buses – they are tickets to meet basic needs, safety and companionship for refugees and asylum seekers who are separated from family and for those who face long journeys through Scotland’s notorious winter weather; and they are tickets to integration into the Scottish community, all things that we wish for every human being.

If you are able to donate, please do so here: https://localgiving.org/appeal/rstwinterappeal/?fbclid=IwAR1I-Poi6fdFfkVhoIUnc9-gXxTzslboEwigpfyYOP0HOeUTcLRlAR1PqIU

We wish everyone a happy and peaceful holiday season, and a happy new year.

We have also shared a piece written by Paul Laverty, who has recently spent time at the Siberian border where there are several unofficial sites of refugees. Please see this piece, ‘Dear President Ursula Von Der Leyen’, below.

Gillian Melville, Clinic Supervisor

Reshare: Dear President Ursula Von Der Leyen



C/O The European Commission,

B – 1049




2nd of December 2021






Dear President Ursula Von Der Leyen


I notice that you have been awarded “the global citizen prize for world leader” in December 2020.  


I also notice from your twitter feed that you are a President of action; photos of you making calls to world leaders in every sphere, from politics, medicine, world business, security, and much besides. 


I note too your vociferous support for sanctions against Belarus after the brutal treatment of civilians by dictator Lukashenka.  


I also notice from your CV that you are a physician and a mother seven children. 


Given all of the above I thought you might be the right person to write to on the following matter. 


Could you pick up your phone once again and use your considerable influence to stop the systematic punishment beatings by Border Patrol forces of several European countries that are part of the European Union?  


During the last week of November 2021, I was privileged to accompany Doctor Marco Aparicio, a top flight Professor of law from Girona University specialising in human rights, and a dynamic Serbian NGO called ClikActiv, as they brought aid and legal advice to six unofficial sites of refugees on the Serbian border with Croatia, Hungary, (both EU members) and Romania.  Most of the refugees we met were fleeing the chaos and violence of Syria and Afghanistan.  


In the woods, around simple fires and make shift tents, we spoke to people in small groups of 2 or 3,  and in some places up to a dozen at at a time. 


One moment was particularly memorable; after hearing their stories I asked one group if they had all been beaten by border patrol forces.  Several burst out laughing.  What a strange question it seemed to them.  Of course they had all been beaten up, and many many times.  They looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet…..how could I not know?  


Too many faces come to mind but Ali’s was particularly grey and drained.  As we talked about his attempts to cross into Hungary from Serbia, he told me of his experience at a previous border as he crossed from Turkey into Greece.  They were on a little boat on the River Evros.  Greek commandos threw them into the water.  Ali made it to the Greek side, but his cousin Sarbast Mustafa disappeared and has not been heard of since, presumed drowned.  The commandos smashed Ali’s phone,  stole his money, and then to humiliate the young man even more stripped off his clothes and sent him back to Turkey again in his pants.  


But Ali came back, made it through Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia,  and now confronted the latest barrier, the triple barbed wire fence to Hungary, its Patrol Forces, and their dogs.  


As the sun set and the freezing cold swept over everyone, many would prepare for the next attempt at the border.  A tell tale sign were groups huddling together, plastic bags in their arms, and many sipping on a high energy drink for the battle ahead.  


They called it “going to the game”.  


“Are you going to the game?” echoed around camp fires,  repeated in multiple languages from Arabic to Pashto. 


George, 21, from Cameroon, was fleeing Boko Haran.  How he made it across half the African continent, deserts, and the Mediterranean Sea, I do not know, but as we contemplated the freezing river at dusk it seemed like an unbearable task.  “I’m going to swim it tonight” he said.  He was chuffed I knew of the famous Cameroon footballer Samuel Eto’o considered one of the best strikers in the world who had once graced the Nou Camp of Barcelona.   He seemed to appreciate a little idle chat before going to the game of a more deadly kind. 


He too had been regularly beaten up, had his phone smashed, money stolen, but for him the most frightening experience was having guns pointed at him at close range by screaming patrol guards shouting they were going to shoot him. 


Do you think this is an exaggeration?


On consecutive nights I spoke to young activists from two inspiring NGOs, No Name Kitchen, (founded by Spanish activists)  and Collective Aid.  Three young women from Italy one night, and then 3 young women from the UK the next.  One was a young doctor from Florence and she described the misery of scabies for the refugees and how it was impossible to keep clean.  The itch would drive them mad, and the constant scratching would lead to infections.  Libby, a young Geography graduate from Bristol, described the difficulty of trying to treat the wounds from the barbed wire, the flailing tails of which were so sharp they would slice through flesh and leave deep flapping wounds. Infections from dog bites was another grave concern. 


Again, both organisations confirmed the systematic nature of violence against the refugees; from casual beatings, to smashed phones, to robbing their money and destroying their documents. ( I noticed several young men in totally inappropriate plastic sandals.  Many had lost their boots after having them slit open by the Border Patrols looking for hidden cash.  No Name Kitchen and Collective Aid did their best to find boots that would fit the travellers; each item of clothing gratefully accepted like a precious gift.) 


Each phone destroyed, or money stolen, has catastrophic consequences for the refugee and their families back home who would once again have to borrow, sell possessions, or beg for more funds to send to their isolated son, daughter, or partner; the cruelty and consequences multiplied in distant lands. 


All of the above has made me wonder President Von der Leyen if you and all your colleagues in the European Commission know this is going on at your borders?  


I see from your CV that you were once the Minister of Defence in Germany from 2013 to 2019.  I hazard a guess that your connections to the security forces and intelligence are of the highest order.  


A cursory glance at the net shows an impressive array of evidence backing the assertions of the refugees we met at the border last week.  


In particular the work of the Border Violence Monitoring Network (https://www.borderviolence.eu) made up of several NGOs working on the ground at the border hotspots.  As someone like you with your finger on the pulse would probably know they published a Black Book of Pushbacks in December 2020 collating the experience of 12,654 cases of abuses along the borders of Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungry on the so called infamous Balkan Route. 


Evidence from other bone fide human rights organisations support the above. Since you are such a frequent user of twitter you will have seen footage of Border Patrol beatings put up on the net taken by brave witnesses, and inventive investigators.   


I think we can take it President that you and your colleagues know of the systematic nature of European state violence? Or do you have the brass neck of a Luckashenka to do a Pontius Pilate?


This begs some simple questions. 


What is the chain of command? 


It would be naive to expect to find a live trail, but it is a fascinating question. 


Perhaps it all resorts to the time honoured “nod and a wink”.  You know, I know….we don’t have to ask any questions. 


Hierarchical organisations have order in their DNA.  Somebody has to give the commands to the Border Patrol, Police, Army, Commandos, that turn up for their shifts each day and night, of what is allowed and what is not.  Commanders must be in contact with their national politicians, and national politicians are in constant contact with their European partners.  Or do you expect us to believe that thousands of security forces in multiple countries  have spontaneously transformed themselves into thugs? What a sense of impunity these forces must feel if they can abuse so many so casually.  How many have been murdered like Sarbast Mustafa? 


A nod and wink? Of course it suits the civilised capitals of Europe and the European Commission, and the UK too, when all the dirty work can be outsourced to the woods, the rivers, the seas, and the mountains under night fall.  


But there is something you, and all the nodders and winkers, and the designers of the barbed wire, the night visions, the batons and the entire billion-dollar infrastructure of intra-state cruelty do not understand. 


You can see it in the glint of George’s eye as he snaps open an energy drink as he goes to the game.   It is courage beyond words, it is hope beyond the evidence, it is desperation as deep as the oceans they cross; it’s the life force itself.  They will not be deterred.  Yasser from Syria told me as he shivered in the freezing night on the 24th of November by an abandoned milk factory with the Hungarian border fence in view.  “If I go back to Syria they kill me…. what choice do I have, so I go to the game.” 


What happens on our borders is a microscope on our changing world. How we treat the refugees is a microscope on ourselves.  Tens of thousands flee war, and now many more will flee the effects of climate change. Already on the African Sahel many are on the move after drought has destroyed their crops. They move or they die.  


Cop 26 in Glasgow made it crystal clear the world faces the interconnected challenge of climate change and mass migration; gargantuan risks of multi-layered complexity. 


We face a self-defining choice.   Do we have a rational humane plan, (many organisations are working hard on practical policies) co-operate between nations share resources, imagine solutions, respect international law, or do we pointlessly inflict more cruelty and misery on our most vulnerable fellow human beings, victims many times over.   Dear President Von Der Leyen, when the numbers of refugees increase, as they will, how long before the game becomes more deadly? How long before shoot to kill?  


Unimaginable, isn’t it? 


Time to pick up that phone.   



Paul Laverty


PS.  If any reader would like to know more about the organisations mentioned or donate, their sites are below.)


(Judith Raskin, Student Advisor)

Student advisor, Judith Raskin, briefly reflects on her first year in the law clinic.

I wanted to join the Law Clinic after hearing the amazing things that it was achieving for people seeking access to justice. The initial advisor training taught us how to conduct interviews and draft documents that would be necessary for any case we worked on; it was extremely beneficial and the advisors who ran it were very helpful.

In November 2020, I was assigned an employment case that dealt with race discrimination, unfair dismissal, and unlawful deduction of wages. When I was first made aware of the details of the case, I was overwhelmed because of its content and the thought of representing an actual client at a Tribunal was daunting yet exciting! Every meeting with our client, I was more and more comfortable discussing the case; I now know that this will help me during my traineeship.

In September, my co-advisor, Carmen, and I represented our client at a 5-day Tribunal Hearing which was exhilarating! Carmen led the questioning whilst I oversaw taking notes and finding the relevant documentation for our questions and cross-examination. Carmen is an experienced advisor, and she was most helpful throughout the entire process; she broke everything down for me so that I understood fully the ins and outs of the law surrounding the case. The Judge that presided over our case pointed out where our arguments were strong and where they were not. We are now awaiting judgment and we really hope that it is in our client’s favour. The Hearing was all conducted online which was a surreal experience. I never thought I would be representing my first ever client from my desk in my bedroom!

Joining the Law Clinic has been one of the best decisions I ever made, and I feel very privileged to be a part of it. Since finishing my first case, I have participated in a few of the Initial Advice Clinics which has been a really great experience overseeing a qualified solicitor conduct an interview with a client. I am hoping to get another case soon as I really enjoyed the first one.

Judith Raskin, Student Advisor.

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My first case – a SSSC case

(Melissa McKillen, Student Advisor and Elected Member, and Ronan Leslie, Student Advisor and Deputy TAP Coordinator)

Student advisor, Melissa McKillen, reflects on her first case with the Law Clinic. Melissa considers what she has learned from working on the case and from her experience of representing a client at a virtual hearing. 


At the beginning of this academic year, I represented one of the Law Clinic’s clients at the SSSC Fitness to Practise Panel impairment hearing along with my co-advisor, Ronan Leslie. This was the culmination of six months of casework (and all of the interviews, research, phone calls, Zoom meetings and letter-drafting that casework entails), and it would be the end of my first ever case with the Clinic. 


For law students, the opportunity to represent clients in forums like the SSSC hearing is invaluable. While hearings in these strange times are somewhat removed from what we might have imagined as we applied to university – this particular hearing took place on Microsoft Teams, rather than at the SSSC’s offices in Dundee – it could well be said that the lessons to be taken from such experiences remain the same.


I believe that two of these lessons were particularly important.


The first is that the outcome of a case will not necessarily fit into the binary of an outright ‘loss’ or an unmitigated ‘win’. Sanctions imposed by the SSSC are numerous and varied; each is located along a spectrum and may be combined with further sanctions. As far as a client appearing at the hearing is concerned, the imposition of any sanction short of a removal order may fit their definition of a successful outcome; or, a client may consider the imposition of even the lightest of sanctions to be an injustice. Therefore, a client’s conception of a successful outcome, rather than a representative’s own definition of a ‘win’, is paramount. At the same time, however, we as advisors have a duty to manage our clients’ expectations as to what the Panel might decide, so that they might instruct us accordingly.


The second lesson is that the representation that the Law Clinic provides to our clients really can, and often does, make a significant difference to the outcome of a given case. As the hearing went on, Ronan and I remarked during several of the adjournments that we felt as though the case was on a knife-edge. It is worth considering, then, how our client’s case might have fared had they attended the hearing without representation. While we are not lawyers, the Law Clinic and our supervisor, Gillian Melville, had equipped us with the acumen and the knowledge to secure the best outcome that we could possibly have hoped for in this case. The experience of representing a client at a hearing in which they stood to lose their livelihood has thrown into bold relief something that previously I had known only in theory: that law clinics such as ours serve to level the legal playing field between those whom we represent, and their opponents.


I am immensely proud of the work that Ronan and I did on this case, and I am delighted with the outcome of the hearing. Of equal importance to me, however, are the lessons that I have taken from my experience at this hearing, which I can apply to my next case.


Melissa McKillen, Student Advisor and Elected Member


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