Public legal education programme for BME female foreign nationals returning to the community from prisons
Following the successful collaboration with Hibiscus Initiatives Community Resettlement Project earlier this year, Law for Life will design a programme to support Hibiscus’ service users.
Many of the women who seek support from this project are unaware of their legal rights and feel disempowered by the criminal justice system. Much of Hibiscus Initiatives’ casework demonstrates harrowing tales of abuse and intimidation and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and confusion about their predicament in a country whose system they have very little knowledge about. As one of Hibiscus Initiatives' service users describes:
"It is like trying to cross a busy road in the rush hour in a foreign country. I do not know whose arm to take to ensure I am not killed by cars."
Our programme aims to build confidence, skills and knowledge and improve legal capability and access to justice for this vulnerable group. It will be delivered from January to April 2018 in four consecutive training sessions which will cover some of the basic legal concepts such as: the distinction between civil and criminal law, civil/criminal courts structure and important skills needed to deal with law-related problems.
In addition, we will address more specific issues which are relevant for this client group, such as roles of immigration solicitors and barristers, what is covered by legal aid in immigration cases, and gathering documents to build your own case.
The programme is funded by the Matrix Causes Fund.
We have now finished this programme.
In total, 80 individuals benefited from this programme of whom 100% are from BME background (Black African, Black Caribbean, Asian, Mixed background, Eastern European) and 100% are not in employment due to immigration restrictions, disability or ill health. All participants have multiple vulnerabilities (including mental health, disability, low income, long-term unemployment) and are at high risk of destitution, exploitation and hardship.
In total, 95% of participants rated the training “excellent or good” and we noted an increase in legal capability (knowledge, skills, confidence to deal with legal problems). We measured the following positive outcomes:
- 100% participants stated that the training helped them understand basic differences between civil and criminal issues
- 100% participants said that the course helped them understand the structure of civil and criminal courts
- 70% participants said that they can recognise reliable information about legal problems as a result of this training
- 80% of participants said that they know of at least two agencies that could help with debt problems as a result of this training
- 100% participants said that the course helped them to understand the differences between priority and non-priority debt
- 100% of participants said that they feel more confident to recognise reliable immigration adviser/lawyer as a result of this training
- 89% of participants said that the course helped them understand how to work better with their immigration adviser/lawyer
- 100% participants said that the course helped them to understand their options when they are not getting a good service from their immigration adviser/lawyer
The sessions also had positive impact on our participants’ emotional wellbeing and self- esteem. For instance, participants who attended more than one session were contributing more as their confidence increased after each session. We also noticed other unexpected outcomes, such as improved English and digital literacy.
The delivery of our sessions was supported by the following legal specialists, in pro-bono capacity: Charmaine Henry (Birkbeck’s School of Law), Lucy Grey (Senior Associate, Real Estate Litigation, Allen & Overy LLP), Rachel Evans (Senior Policy Officer, Bar Standards Board) and Elizabeth Bruce (Bails, Deport. and Accommodation Manager, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, First Tier Tribunal)
Feedback from participants
“Wow…this workshop was an eye opener to me, I learnt something new; thanks for organising it!” - Resettlement Hub participant
“Recently I changed my solicitor and I ended up making a complaint about my previous solicitor. The workshop [How to work with your immigration adviser] helped me understand what a good solicitor is. I used this knowledge to make a good complaint.” - Resettlement Hub participant
“I really valued going to Immigration Tribunal. Even though I felt people like us are mistreated, I still think it was important to go there.” - Resettlement Hub participant
“I recently had to go for a Home Office interview. I knew how I should behave in the interview. This is because of information you provided”. - Resettlement Hub participant
“It was a very interesting workshop that gave us a lot of information. It would be very good if the visitors would be able to come again and spend more time and especially have some one-to-one time with us to discuss each one of our cases and give us more of an insight of what kind of information we need for our own personal case. Thank you so much for taking the time to come and speak with us.” - HMP Peterborough workshop participant
“Great time and well worth 1, 5 hours spent in my past 8 months [in prison]. Thank you for listening to our issues and treating us as humans.” - HMP Peterborough workshop participant