Fighting for justice

When a group of redundant workers had nowhere to turn, Manchester students took on their case at the donor-funded Legal Advice Centre.

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Limitations on affordable or free legal advice mean that access to justice is now a real problem for many ordinary people. So, when a Lancashire-based insurance business collapsed suddenly last summer, its employees were faced with the prospect of being unable to pursue their employer for outstanding payments, as well as for compensation for the failure to consult with them.

“We were faced with a sudden redundancy and no prospects of receiving a fair payout – there was no advice on how we could make a claim, or if it would even be possible,” says former employee Colette Burns. “After exhaustive searches we eventually found the correct government websites, but this led to many obstacles and no guarantee of retrieving the money we were owed.”

A colleague then drew Colette’s attention to an employment law advice clinic at Bury Law Centre, at which Christine Peacock – the Solicitor/Manager of the University’s Legal Advice Centre – is a volunteer.

“Previously, our students have only provided advice in the form of a letter sent after a supervised interview,” says Christine. “This situation provided a great opportunity to provide representation for a group of workers, using it to work with students as part of their educational development.”

She agreed to take on the case for 21 of the dismissed workers, working with a group of ten students. They obtained the information necessary to lodge claims in the Manchester Employment Tribunal for the employees, calculating their losses, as well as helping them to get the payments they were entitled to from the Insolvency Service.

As the company was insolvent, it soon became clear that the clients wouldn’t benefit from continuing with most of their tribunal claims – they were advised that their best option was to focus on the failure to consult in a collective redundancy situation. So the students continued with this, working to draft a witness statement and putting together evidence in preparation for a hearing.

The company did not contest the case, so the judge awarded the dismissed workers 90 days’ gross pay. Together with redundancy, holiday and notice pay, the students helped to secure around £150,000 for their clients.

“I’m so happy that we were able to help the workers to get the justice that they were entitled to.”

“The students gave us invaluable advice, guided us, and had our case put forward – as a result, we were able to gain full redundancy packages and even a final payment which none of us had been aware we were entitled to,” says former employee Joanne Bennett. “Without their assistance, I believe we would have only received a fraction of what we were due.”

Christine’s initial judgement about the case being an ideal way for students to learn about employment law was proven to be correct, and the successful outcome of the case gave them an enormous sense of satisfaction as well as valuable experience.

“Working on behalf of the clients was incredibly rewarding and provided an insight into the positive contributions that lawyers can have in practice,” says student Sophie Naughton. “It has motivated me further to continue a career in law and provided a chance to practically apply my degree.”

“I’m so happy that we were able to help the workers to get the justice that they were entitled to,” adds fellow student Anuli Changa. “It was great to be involved in a real employment case and I’m sure we we’ll benefit from this.”

After such a positive experience Christine is sure that her students will be able to benefit from helping people in similar situations in the future, which will also ensure that the Legal Advice Centre continues to be an invaluable resource for people excluded from justice.

The Legal Advice Centre is supported by donations.

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