Canterbury University Taking Law to the Community – By Jann O’Keefe

Taking Law to the Community

Canterbury University Taking Law to the Community – By Jann O’Keefe

Unprecedented demand for free legal services is seeing UC students servicing more than 20,000 inquiries a year through Community Law Canterbury, the largest centre of its type in New Zealand.

The Dean of UC’s School of Law, Associate Professor Chris Gallavin, says that in the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes not-for-profit service centres such as Community Law Canterbury have become increasingly important to the recovery of the Christchurch community.

“Like the enthusiasm shown by students in the Student Volunteer Army, our law students are very keen to help those in need wherever possible. It is extremely heartening to see young people so passionate about standing up for their community.

“While the great need for free legal help in Christchurch is a damning indictment on the provision of core services, it also brings great opportunity. Where else in the country are enthusiastic young people presented with the opportunity to really make a difference in their community? Nowhere but Christchurch,” Gallavin says.

He says UC’s School of Law is now working closely with the centre. “By formally integrating the operations of the law centre into our curriculum, we can provide a hugely profitable learning experience for our students, one that enables them to really make a difference even while still studying,” he says.

The law centre provides a wide range of services free to the public. About 20 drop-in clinics are held every week, with many inquiries being dealt with by UC students.

“Students receive a full day’s training followed by professional supervision on the job,” says Gallavin.

“But no one can give legal advice without a practising certificate, so salaried lawyers attend each clinic, sitting in rooms that are inaccessible to the public. Our students deal face-to-face with people attending the clinic, then consult with the lawyers in private to obtain the appropriate legal advice, which they then take back out to their clients.”

Drop-in issues could revolve around consumer guarantees, criminal charges, family law, commerce or other concerns, and the centre also runs specialist clinics in family law, insurance and employment. A 40-hour-a-week free phone advisory service, manned exclusively by UC students, currently takes about 8000 phone calls a year.

“Since the earthquakes, a new residential advice service has been set up,” says Gallavin.

“The centre also works closely with the police, and is considering introducing a watch house service so people can get immediate advice when taken into custody. They already work with Youth Justice and with the Howard League for Penal Reform, offering a legal information service inside prisons. They also have strong links with Ngā Hau e Whā, the National Urban Māori Marae in Aranui where there is a District Court in the whare.

“So, the centre has lots of fingers in lots of pies and can expose our students to incredibly broad, and sometimes unique, experiences during the course of their degree if they choose this option. We understand though, that community work is not for everyone, so students will be able to opt instead to undertake different internships.”