School of Business and Law

Inspiring journeys to work

Trees lining a road and the same picture after the trees had been removed

The Business School pro bono Law Clinic provides successful advice

In November, our pro bono legal clinic was asked to give emergency legal advice to a northern city-based Tree Defenders Residents Group. The group were peacefully gathering, with Covid safe measures in place, around mature trees in the city.

The residents were knitting, exercising and trying to stop the council contractors from felling the trees unlawfully. However the new Coronavirus Regs 1200/2020 appeared to have removed all meaningful ability to gather to protest peacefully, according to local police. This was despite the Home Office being advised just before lockdown that peaceful, Covid safe protest was a lawful right under the European Court of Human Rights even in times of lockdown.

Over a period of two days, the police came with a fairly heavy-handed approach, arresting residents, issuing fines and, at one point, threatening a water cannon.  A team of three law students Sarah Khaddar (PgDip Law), Jasmine Hale (LLM Law Conversion) and Sinead Gallagher (LLB Law) supervised by Brontie Ansell provided legal advice on how the residents may gather and save the trees lawfully within the Covid Regs and within govt guidance in lockdown, in order to exercise their human right to peaceful protest.

After a nerve-wracking 48-hours of legal research and writing up advice, South Yorkshire Police conceded the group were lawfully able to protest and rescinded all fines issued over the period of the gathering. Some, but not all of the trees, were saved and the residents were really impressed with the clinic and the team.

Jasmine said, “I was very excited when I heard that the University ran a legal clinic that we were able to be involved in. As a postgraduate student, I have experienced first-hand the difficulties of finding work opportunities post-graduation, so I was particularly eager to gain as much real-life experience as possible. Helping the clinic with this case was extremely exciting and I was very pleasantly surprised by how much trust and responsibility the clinic gave to us. I felt extremely supported throughout the experience and Brontie reassured us that any help we could give would be amazing. I was hesitant at first as Environmental Law is not an area I am experienced in, and to be completely honest, was not a subject I had paid a great deal of attention to in the past. Despite this I never felt out of my depth, Brontie was clear and helpful in guiding us in the right direction and I became very invested in the case. I would highly recommend getting involved in the clinic in any way you can. It is an amazing opportunity to expand your knowledge with real life cases and it gives you the opportunity to provide a vital service to those who need it most.”

Sarah said, “When I received the email to help on the legal research for the legal clinic I felt both nervous and reluctant as I really doubted myself and felt I lacked the confidence to perform a good job. However, upon starting the research and hearing the facts of what we were researching I instantly felt drawn in and motivated to research the best I could possibly do. I found myself not being able to stop looking into different ideas from the moment we received the email. Over time I started to become a lot more confident and with Brontie’s brilliant support and encouragement I really felt a lot better about my ability to research and perform. Overall I have come away from it feeling a lot better about my skills which I cannot thank her enough for.”

 Sinead said, “I would 100% recommend getting involved in the legal clinic as this really motivated me in my future career and gave me the direction I needed to go forward, it also gives you the best insight on how to research for real cases and looking at every angle possible within the law. It gives you the experience to take away but also gives you a learning point to improve. Also, you work with lovely people and coordinate your skills and ideas and also have a laugh and rant at the same time. Additionally, and the most important thing to take away is you’re helping people who need your help.”

The case was featured in the Independent Newspaper on 25 November and you can read the article here.

You can also follow the story on Twitter here:

 Congratulations Brontie, Sarah, Jade and Sinead!

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Clare Prust • December 17, 2020

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