Students go to court in hands-on initiative

Wednesday, 30 October 2002

LAW students from Adelaide and Flinders universities are providing free legal advice to people involved in minor civil claims at the Adelaide Magistrates Court - offering much-needed assistance and gaining unique practical skills in the process.

The clinic, a joint initiative of the Law Schools of both universities, is the first of its kind in Australia. It will be formally launched on Thursday, October 31 by Dr Andrew Cannon, Supervising Magistrate at the Adelaide Magistrates Court.

Using offices based at the Adelaide Magistrates Court, and under supervision from lecturers (who are also practising lawyers), final- year law students engage with members of the public who are involved in or contemplating minor civil claims (less than $6000).

At this level, members of the public must represent themselves in court, but often a lack of knowledge about the way court works or their rights and responsibilities can lead to difficulties, both for the court and the people involved.

The clinic provides advice to these people, helping to raise the level of awareness about court procedures and provide better access to justice for them; and potentially enabling their cases to run much more smoothly.

For the students, the clinic gives them the opportunity as part of their law studies to engage in supervised representation of clients, develop an appreciation of the importance of pro bono legal work, and increase their awareness of the many challenges that face both the courts and the community.

The clinic operates one day per week. Although the clinic operates independently of the court, it has the full support and cooperation of the Magistrates Court and the Courts Administration Authority, and has received financial support from the Law Foundation of South Australia Inc.

"This collaboration between schools and with the Magistrates Court is the first such court-based initiative in Australia," says one of the coordinators of the clinic, Ms Margaret Castles, senior lecturer in Clinical Legal Education at Adelaide.

"The values of such a program are significant. It offers an outstanding opportunity for students to experience law in context, to provide depth and understanding to their theoretical studies, and to develop understanding of issues of justice access and delivery in our community.

"The community benefits, because many people who would otherwise not be able to afford legal advice on matters in the court obtain much- needed guidance and assistance with their cases," Ms Castles says.

"The reality is that many people do not understand the court system, or their rights and responsibilities, and may make a wrong decision or run into problems once proceedings begin," says Ms Rachel Spencer, Director of Practical Legal Training at Flinders and co-coordinator of the clinic.

"Everyone gains if the process runs more smoothly."

All media are invited to attend the launch of the Adelaide Magistrates Court Legal Advice Clinic

Where: Adelaide Magistrates Court, Victoria Square
When: 4.30pm, Thursday, October 13


Contact Details

Ms Margaret Castles
Senior Lecturer
Law School
University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5722