Glasgow University establishes free legal clinic for sexual offence complainers
The University of Glasgow has been awarded funding to establish a law clinic designed to increase access to justice in Scotland for complainers in sexual offences cases, through the provision of free independent legal advice and representation by solicitors.
The first of its kind in the UK, the Emma Ritch Law Clinic will honour Emma Ritch, a pioneering campaigner for women’s rights and graduate of the university, who sadly passed away in 2021.
As well as offering legal advice, through a specially constituted legal practice unit, the Emma Ritch Law Clinic will offer innovative teaching to students, enabling the next generation of Scottish lawyers to gain critical legal and ethical skills. It will also produce valuable research, providing an insight into the difference that specialist legal advice and representation can make to complainers’ experiences of prosecution, and gather data to better understand why cases might fail to reach, or progress, through the criminal justice system.
The clinic will also instil awareness of trauma-informed lawyering, and the practice of criminal law, an area with longstanding issues in terms of recruitment and retention.
Situated in the School of Law, it will be led by three co-directors: Eamon Keane, Dr Jacqueline Kinghan and Professor Nicole Busby. Seed funding to establish the clinic has been provided by the Sam and Bella Sebba Foundation with additional support provided by the Scottish government.
It will operate in partnership with Rape Crisis Scotland, and other referral agencies, to target unmet legal need in Scotland through the provision of specialist legal advice and representation.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Emma Ritch was a champion of justice and equality, and a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Having a law clinic set up in her memory is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman and a titan of Scotland’s feminist movement.
“I am pleased to announce the Scottish government’s commitment to support and work with the Emma Ritch Law Clinic at the University of Glasgow. The research carried out here will allow for enhanced provision of trauma-informed legal advice, and representation for victims of sexual offences and other forms of gender-based violence to be explored.
“Aligning with the Scottish government’s Vision for Justice in Scotland, the clinic will produce valuable research, and is an important step in providing an insight into the difference that specialist independent legal advice and representation can make to complainers’ experiences.”
Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “The Emma Ritch Clinic could be transformative for rape complainers seeking justice in Scotland.
“We know that many survivors feel as though they are at the margins of the justice process and unprepared for the experience of going to court. It can also be hard for survivors to meaningfully access their rights because of difficulties accessing suitable legal advice and representation. Having access to a lawyer who understands the system can make a huge difference to somebody’s experience.
“The Emma Ritch Clinic will help Scotland lead the way in improving rape survivors’ access to justice. Emma Ritch was a long time member of the Rape Crisis Scotland Board of Directors and was passionate about improving rape survivors’ position in the justice system. We’re very grateful to the University of Glasgow for naming the clinic after Emma. We can’t think of a more fitting legacy.”
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, commented: “The Emma Ritch Law Clinic represents the continued commitment to develop social change legal education at the University of Glasgow. The Clinic joins a series of initiatives designed by the School of Law to support our students and academics to use the law and their legal skills to make a positive difference to society.
“The University of Glasgow is a civically-minded institution, and we are therefore very proud to partner with the Scottish Government, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Sebba Foundation to host this valuable and much needed service. We hope the Clinic will help shape the national development of legal advice for survivors of sexual offences into the future.”