Legal Awards 2020

10 | SME NEWS - Legal Awards 2020 Based in England and Wales, Support Through Court offer practical and emotional support to people who are representing themselves in civil and family court proceedings. Following their success in the Legal Awards 2020, we got in touch with Eileen Pereira, CEO, to find out more. Every year, thousands of people in the UK face court alone. Without help, they must represent themselves while they go through a divorce, seek custody of their children or face eviction from their home. To start, Eileen provides us with a brief overview of the charity and the type of services on offer. “Nobody should have to face court alone. Moreover, thousands of people are unable to access any formal legal help, yet they need to be able to present their own cases clearly and without emotion, often facing professional barristers in court. “At a time of great stress, when you might be made bankrupt, evicted, or lose contact with your child, this can seem an insurmountable task. Support Through Court provides trained volunteers based in the civil and family courts. Our volunteers provide practical help and emotional support to people, talking our clients through the legal processes, and helping them to understand what will happen in the court room. In short, we help people engage with the justice system and, regardless of their case outcome, know that they represented themselves to the best of their abilities.” The legal services sector in the UK is an extremely competitive one. Even so, many people are simply unable to afford legal help, or access legal aid and so the charity’s support services are completely free of charge. Over the last 12 months they have made a huge difference to people facing court, as Eileen explains further: “Support Through Court helped people on over 75,000 occasions last year and with over 750 volunteers based in 20 courts across England and Wales, we are open alongside the courts, to support people in immediate need. We operate a simple model of one member of staff overseeing and supporting a team of volunteers in a donated office space, which means our service is free to clients, and we are able to help clients for less than £25 each time.” Currently, with the outbreak of COVID19 it is proving to be a difficult time for everybody. Moreover, with the charity’s core work usually involving face-to-face communication, this service has obviously been temporarily halted. However, having previously trialled a National Telephone Helpline Service, Support Through Court is still able to offer vital support over the phone. Eileen added, “With the restrictions on movement caused by COVID19, our service has temporarily been routed through the new helpline to our experienced volunteers, enabling them to help people dealing with lifechanging court issues exacerbated by the lockdown. The dedication and adaptability of our volunteers to help vulnerable court users at a time of crisis, even in this difficult time, is amazing.” The closure of advice centres, increased court fees and comprehensive reductions to legal aid have increased the barriers to justice for people who cannot afford legal advice. As a result, the demand for the charity’s services has increased as Eileen goes on to explain. “Our service is in increasing demand. The rapid rise in our client contact numbers demonstrates the extent of the needs we meet. In 2018-19, we helped clients on a record 75,432 occasions, up 15% from the previous year.” When recruiting volunteers, the charity looks for some hugely important personal qualities, including compassion, patience and empathy, as well as brilliant problem-solving skills. Eileen goes on to explain. “Our volunteers are from a variety of backgrounds: many are retired professionals, several from legal backgrounds; some are student volunteers who gain invaluable court experience and people skills; all are committed to helping clients manage their Best Legal Support Volunteers 2020 - England & Wales Support Through Court cases to the best of their abilities. Offering both reassurance and guidance, our volunteers help clients plan what they want to say in court and give them the confidence to engage with the courts in a dignified way.” Finally, Eileen comments on the future of the charity and the plans in place to ensure Support Through Court remains one of the leading volunteering services in the British courts. “Our client feedback speaks for itself, with 99% of clients feeling much more confident after seeking our help and 97% believing they had a fairer hearing. Going forward, if we continue to work hard and adapt to changes in the industry, we will be more than satisfied. To achieve this, we need to increase charitable income to help meet rising numbers. Obviously this will be increasingly hard with COVID19 postponing fundraising activities, but we are hoping for more legal firms and supporters to partner with us in the year ahead.” Company Name: Support Through Court Contact Name: Eileen Pereira Email address: [email protected] Telephone Number: 0207 073 1703 Address: Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, WC2A 2LL. Web Address: www.supportthroughcourt.org

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