Students help to break down barriers to justice

September 30, 2020

Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) has been providing free legal support to people and communities facing barriers to justice since 1996. This year, that help is needed more than ever, and Western Law students are answering the call.

With the assistance of more than 50 law student volunteers, the Western Law chapter of PBSC is running 23 projects which provide free legal services to underrepresented and disadvantaged communities in London.

New projects this year include partnerships with the Nokee Kwe No-Fee Cannabis Pardon Clinics; the London Poverty Research Center Project; North West London Resource Center Project; Urban Haven Project, Community Living London Project, and PHSS Community Project.

Second-year law student James Hutchinson and third-year law student Sarah Hagarty are the PBSC program coordinators at Western Law.

Hutchinson says with an increased need from the community, and with PBSC legal services being offered remotely, there is more interest than ever in students volunteering. 

“There’s an increased awareness about the lack of access to justice in our marginalized communities particularly during Covid - which has made it more challenging for people to access the services they need,” he says.

In partnership with the North West London Resource Center Project, law students will provide legal information relating to housing law and evictions in the context of COVID-19. They will also give guidance to new immigrants with regard to the criminal justice system.

“The opportunity for students to gain first-hand experience on issues surrounding access to justice is so critical for students at the early part of their career,” notes Hutchinson. “It gives them a chance to see the realities of the justice system, inspiring them to embody a pro bono ethic in their legal career.”

This hands-on approach is at work at the Cannabis Pardon Clinic where students meet with clients and support them through application process elated to cannabis pardon process. And through the N'Amerind Friendship Centre's Gladue Writer Program, where a student volunteer will help draft and write reports for indigenous people facing legal issues for use in court proceedings.

In addition to the 23 projects, students at PBSC work with three community-based legal clinics in the region: Neighbourhood Legal Services London Middlesex, Huron Perth Legal Clinic and Elgin Oxford Legal Clinic.

“We are here to help individuals in our community facing barriers, and that help is needed now more than ever,” says Hutchinson.

“The response from our students this year has been overwhelming,” says Kimberley Gagan, Western Law’s Director of Clinics & Practical Skills “It’s heartwarming to see law students engage with community partners to bring access to justice for the most vulnerable members of our community.”