Trainee solicitor at Just for Kids Law
There are no lawyers in my family; none even in my home town in Poland. I was the first of my family to go to university. My decision to go into law was influenced by Poland’s political transformation in the 1990s. I remember vividly feeling something remarkable was happening and the collective sense of freedom and hope. But then came also sadness and despair. As state censorship was lifted, the extent of crimes committed by the communist regime was revealed, along with their many victims. Once Poland was free and democratic, people turned to courts to remedy those wrongs. Seeing the determination of victims and their lawyers to right those wrongs inspired me to study law.
I graduated with a law degree in Poland. Personal circumstances led me to the UK and then to France, where I worked as a case lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Working at the ECtHR was a unique opportunity to learn from inspiring lawyers from across Europe.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into the British legal system through the Human Rights Act. It is an accessible, practical legal tool, enabling applicants to challenge violations of their basic rights, including the right to life, privacy and fair trial, in domestic courts and directly with the ECtHR. I’m alarmed that the UK government intends to repeal the Human Rights Act. This will be a major U-turn for the country which championed the idea of human rights and helped draft the convention.
When I returned to the UK from France in 2014, I completed my GDL and then LPC, while working as a paralegal in the public law and human rights team of a national firm. I started my training contract at Just for Kids Law in January 2018, and am part of the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship.
While children in the legal system are often treated as adults, little effort is made to make them aware of their legal rights
Children are different from adults, although the law does not always recognise this and authorities often try to ignore it. Just for Kids Law has been set up to change this. Before applying for the job, I considered myself well-informed about the state of children’s rights. Working here has opened my eyes to the true extent of the problems children face every day, including homelessness, violence, exclusion, and sexual and criminal exploitation. To those who consider these problems to be marginal, I would say that not a single child should ever be in a position when they desperately need expert legal advice to remedy their circumstances.
While children in the legal system are often treated as adults, little effort is made to make them aware of their legal rights and entitlements. As part of my Legal Education Foundation Justice First Fellowship, I am working on a project aiming to fill this educational gap in London.
The underfunding of legal aid and the resulting lack of access to justice is by far the most challenging and urgent issue in the justice system today. It impacts on the lives of many who are unable to effectively represent themselves in legal proceedings.
The government’s long-overdue review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 makes a number of recommendations, which it intends to develop over the next two years (such as a review of the legal aid means test, expansion of legal aid to cover early advice, and completing a comprehensive review of criminal legal aid fees). It remains to be seen how and when these recommendations will be implemented and whether they will reverse the damage done by LASPO. While there is hope for those who will need legal aid, concern remains over whether the changes will go far enough and whether legal services will be available across the country to make use of the changes. I have heard countless stories of law firms and legal advice centres struggling to replace experienced welfare lawyers who are leaving the profession. More substantive changes to the legal aid funding scheme may be needed for this trend to be reversed.
A big challenge was the anxiety that my English would not be considered good enough to practise in the UK. I am working on this, both in terms of tackling the anxiety and improving my English. Writing this makes me realise how far I’ve come since I first arrived in the UK in 2003. But working with clients made me realise that what really matters to them is that they have a lawyer who is passionate about their case and works hard to achieve the best possible outcome.