Oxford’s new collaborative legal clinic in HMP Huntercombe
By Anjuli Peters and Mayze Teitler
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About the Clinic
This year, seven graduate students from Oxford University have been traveling to HMP Huntercombe to participate in the University’s first immigration law clinic. These students, from Criminology and Law, are pursuing their academic interests in a completely new setting: a foreign-national only prison in Oxfordshire. ‘I was interested in volunteering because I care about access to justice and ensuring everyone has a fair opportunity to have their case heard,’ explains DPhil Law student Tristan Cummings. ‘Being able to help in this small way is highly rewarding.’
Foreign-national only prisons like Huntercombe house people who are not British citizens and do not have Leave to Remain in the UK. Since they do not have Leave to Remain, most if not all of those at HMP Huntercombe are under consideration for deportation from the UK. People incarcerated at foreign national prisons face unique difficulties. They often feel intense anxiety about potential deportation, face separation from family members residing in the UK, struggle with language barriers, and are forced to contend with a potential ban on re-entering the country for 10+ years. Some foreign-national prisons provide minimal opportunities for prisoners to obtain immigration and asylum advice, which only increases the difficulties that detained people face. The legal aid clinic aims to address this lack of access to legal counsel. This initiative, which arose from ongoing research at the Centre for Criminology on the intersections between criminal justice and migration control, represents a partnership between the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, the Centre for Criminology, and Turpin & Miller LLP. It aims to create a place for students to gain real-world experience in immigration law, while also improving access to legal counsel and legal aid at HMP Huntercombe. This collaborative initiative draws on the Bonavero Institute's commitment to public engagement in human rights law, the Centre for Criminology’s Border Criminologies research group, and Turpin & Miller’s innovative and dynamic practice in immigration and asylum law. By bringing students passionate about human rights and immigration law together with experienced solicitors from Turpin & Miller, this clinic represents both a valuable learning opportunity for students and a meaningful commitment to human rights law for the University. As one MSc Criminology student, Elspeth Windsor articulates:
‘It has been a privilege to volunteer with the HMP Huntercombe clinic. Not only have I had the opportunity to learn more about human rights, asylum and extradition law in practise, but I have also found it incredibly rewarding to be so ‘hands-on’. The unique opportunity afforded to participating students in meeting with and speaking with prisoners at HMP Huntercombe ensures that the noble ambition of the project (securing legal aid representation for all of those who are eligible) is grounded in humanity and sincere appreciation for the seriousness of the legal matters in hand.’
A Day as an Intern
What does this look like in practice? The legal clinic is held every two weeks in Huntercombe on Thursday mornings under the supervision of solicitor Tom Giles of Turpin & Miller. During the clinic, graduate students are responsible for conducting intake interviews with potential clients at the prison. After completing their client intake interviews, students are encouraged to observe attorney meetings. During these meetings, Turpin & Miller solicitors advise detained individuals on their eligibility for legal aid assistance and immigration and asylum issues relevant to their case. Given the high demand for legal aid at Huntercombe, the solicitors aim to meet with 10 detained individuals per session.
Following the clinic at HMP Huntercombe, students volunteer at the Cowley Road offices of Turpin & Miller to assist with case follow-up. Office tasks include conducting legal research, drafting immigration appeal chronologies, and assisting with information management. Each term, the students meet with Annelen Micus and Mary Bosworth from Bonavero and the Centre for Criminology and share their experiences and offer reflexive feedback about the clinic. Many students reflect on their previous experience in immigration law: ‘Prior to coming to Oxford I worked with irregular migrants in Zambia,’ explains MSc Criminology student Kelly Kapianga. ‘The Huntercombe legal clinic is a great opportunity to continue with my work and see how migration operates in the United Kingdom.’
For graduate students interested in joining the clinic, recruitment information for the next academic year 2019/ 2020 will be announced at the beginning of Michaelmas Term 2019. Applicants should expect to commit 8 hours per month each term that they participate in the clinic. This time requirement is divided between half a day assisting legal aid clinics at HMP Huntercombe and another half day assisting with casework at Turpin & Miller. Additional time requirements include the initial training session and termly group meetings. ‘I decided to get involved in the clinic because I am committed to ensuring that all individuals, citizens and non-citizens alike, have access to justice,’ says DPhil Law student Emilie McDonnell. ‘I wanted to provide my legal skills and time for a worthwhile initiative that ensures non-citizens detained in the UK have the chance to obtain effective immigration and asylum advice, to appeal their deportation and submit a human rights or asylum claim with the help of a lawyer.’
While this initiative was initially funded temporarily by the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and the Centre for Criminology, in February 2019, the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights secured funding for another 12 months, under the terms of a generous grant from AB Charitable Trust. ‘With this money, we hope to develop our work in Huntercombe and to explore additional opportunities for students to offer this kind of support in institutional settings,’ Mary Bosworth, Director of the Centre for Criminology noted. ‘It can be very difficult to obtain good legal advice when facing deportation for criminal matters, and so we are very happy to be working together, training our students for future careers, while offering much needed assistance that will help people in prison access justice.’
Annelen Micus, Head of Programmes of the Bonavero Institute, concludes
This initiative reflects the commitment of the Bonavero Institute to human rights, both globally and locally, as well as its commitment to affording students practical experiences in the field of human rights. Given the high demand for legal advice, we hope that the project will grow within HMP Huntercombe and potentially be offered to other prisons to address this urgent local human rights need, and that it thus will also provide further students with this practical experience in human rights.