Between January and May 2014 I carried out a work placement with the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), a registered charity based in the North West of England providing specialist immigration, asylum and human rights advice. Given that I wanted to link my undergraduate law degree with my current MA in humanitarianism and conflict response, I jumped at the chance to be a part of an organisation which works within the realms of both disciplines.
The primary focus of my placement was laid out at a meeting with Denise, the Director of GMIAU. She explained that one of the largest hurdles they have faced in the past year has been the removal of legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) which came into effect on April 1st 2013. On the basis of this, it was decided that myself and another student were to write a report on the detrimental impact that LASPO has had on GMIAU and, in turn, families who seek their help.
Beginning work on a 3,000 word report in an organisation I had only just stepped foot in appeared a daunting task, but also an invaluable one. We were given several opportunities within the first week to immerse ourselves in their work; attending drop in clinics and speaking to caseworkers. Seeing the vital work GMIAU does on a daily basis made me appreciate just how lucky I was to have been given a chance to see their work from an insider’s perspective.
Our particular focus was on deportation of foreign national prisoners, who despite always having a right to family and personal life, are denied access to legal aid. We interviewed a number of past and present clients in these situations, and were able to see first-hand for ourselves the impact LASPO was having.
Whilst researching and writing the report itself, it became evident that this was more than just another academic writing exercise. I had long stopped counting the number of essays and assignments I have written over the past five years of higher education which disappeared into the black hole of anonymous submission portals, and I soon realised the uniqueness of this report.
The finished copy was submitted by us on behalf of GMIAU to the UK Government’s Justice Committee who were calling for papers on LASPO’s impact and published 3 weeks later along with the other submissions [see here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/laspo/?type=Written#pnlPublicationFilter]. The confirmation page gave a sense of achievement in that at least for once, a paper was being submitted for the purpose of more than a grade on a transcript. This had a personal impact on me, as I began to realise the power of action based writing, but I also hope it has had an impact on GMIAU, who continue to work to improve the lives of hundreds of families each year.