My name is William, and I’m studying for a Masters in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response at The University of Manchester. I was really privileged to have had my work placement at Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, an independent charity organization providing legal advice to the public. GMIAU has been operating for 25 years and employs around 18 permanent staff and a number of volunteers. The legal advice they provide is free, and their primary commitment is to aid people who are seeking justice, usually relating to immigration law and those who may have experienced trauma such as conflict, trafficking, abuse or torture.
The GMIAU offers free legal advice through a contract with the Legal Aid Agency, a government body which covers the costs that would otherwise be incurred by those people who come to the unit seeking advice and support. However, legal aid is being threatened by a series of government cuts, which would become the focus of our work placement efforts.
Before starting the placement, I knew I would be in an unfamiliar environment, and was anxious about whether my background in ethics and philosophy (but not law!) would help or hinder the placement success. Would I be able to contribute anything unique? Luckily for me, I was teamed up with another student from my course who possessed a background in law and the patience to help me get to grips with all the legal terms and processes. On the UK Parliament website we found a Select Committee call for evidence; ‘New Inquiry: Impact of changes to civil legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012’. This was a chance for us to prepare a report about the impacts the changes to legal aid had had on GMIAU and their clients. This was a great opportunity and superb motivation for us, because we could not only engage in the issues and debates effecting GMIAU but also hopefully create something useful for them in the process.
After a meeting with our placement supervisor, we agreed that the report submission would be the ‘key objective’ of our work placement, but I soon found myself forgetting how there could be an
ethical side to the debates and issues. Instead, I attempted a 2-week self-taught crash course in legal theory and UK immigration law! Guidance from our supervisor and the staff at GMIAU helped me understand that legal aid changes shouldn’t just be considered in terms of law, but in terms of people. The impacts have moral consequences and are felt most strongly by people who are already vulnerable, such as those without the means to pursue justice alone, and their children.
Our report can be found here (LAS0017).