Students come to aid of unrepresented divorcing couples at court

Harbron: Vital skills

Students in Teesside are to provide free help and guidance to unrepresented people attending first hearing dispute resolution appointments at Middlesbrough Family Court.

Teesside University’s law clinic has been given permission to attend the court on Tuesdays, the day these hearings take place, and final year law students will be on hand to offer emotional support and procedural advice.

The students will be supported by qualified staff from the clinic.

The university said it was only the second such scheme in the whole country after Hertfordshire University’s Support at Court service, set up in 2020.

According to the National Audit Office’s report last month on the government’s management of legal aid, the proportion of private family law cases where neither party had legal representation increased from 14% to 40% between 2013 and 2023.

Emma Harbron, senior lecturer in legal practice at Teesside University, who pioneered the new scheme, said: “As well as helping those members of the public who are struggling to access justice, this initiative will be invaluable for our students, offering them an opportunity to gain real-world experience of court proceedings, interact with other legal professionals and deal with clients.

“All of these will be vital skills in their future careers.”

His Honour Judge Harvey Murray, a local Family Court judge, added: “This is an exciting new service aimed at providing those who are attending before our Family Court with the support and assistance they might need.

“This collaboration between the university and the court centre will hopefully give members of our community more confidence when attending what could be an emotionally demanding hearing.”

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