Law students tackle death penalty cases and human rights violations on international placements

Nottingham Law School students have returned from placements in the USA and India where they carried out pro bono work which included reviewing live murder and armed robbery cases in a death penalty state.

Nottingham Law School students have returned from placements in the USA and India where they carried out pro bono work which included reviewing live murder and armed robbery cases in a death penalty state, working to prove prisoner innocence, and providing support for victims of human rights violations.

Five students joined organisations across the US, including Chatham County Public Defender's Office in Savannah, Georgia; Centurion Ministries, an organisation which works to free the innocent, in Princeton, New Jersey; and Casa Cornelia, a public interest law firm providing quality pro bono legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations, in San Diego.

Ryan Akhurst, a final year LLB (Hons) Law with Business student, was one of two who worked for public defender, Michael Edwards, in Georgia, a state which still employs the death penalty.

On our visit to the jail we saw the inside of prisoners cells and how little space and privacy each individual really has was a bit of a shock.

Ryan Akhurst, final year LLB (Hons) Law with Business

They were trusted to review four cases, which included murder, rape, armed robbery and sexual battery, by working through the evidence and looking at police reports, witness statements and witness interviews. The students also went to interview clients in jail.

Ryan, 20, said: "The highlight for me was getting cases straightaway and being given full responsibility to handle them on our own with regular meetings. On our visit to the jail we saw the inside of prisoners cells and how little space and privacy each individual really has was a bit of a shock. But learning the different schemes set up to help and rehabilitate them was very insightful.

It reaffirmed my view that the law is a tool which should be used to help the most vulnerable in society.

Feriaal Cole, full-time Legal Practice Course

"One of the challenges was interviewing the clients; looking at the evidence and understanding that this was real life and that someone has been killed but knowing I have to go open minded and talk to the suspect."

Three students also travelled to Kerala in India to work with human rights Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Jananeethi, where they produced a comparative study of the legal aid and Alternative dispute resolution systems in Britain and India. They then presented their findings at a conference in the country, attended by a local judge, lawyers and lecturers.

This work teaches students how the law affects people and shows them how to be professional no matter who their client is.

Nick Johnson, director of the Nottingham Law School Legal Advice Centre

Feriaal Cole, 21, is currently studying the full-time Legal Practice Course at Nottingham Law School. She said: "I have always been extremely passionate about human rights so the opportunity to intern at an NGO in India was an opportunity I was never going to waste. It reaffirmed my view that the law is a tool which should be used to help the most vulnerable in society. Often law students are pushed to concentrate on the commercial aspect of law, rather than being reminded that it should be used to fight injustices."

Third year LLB (Hons) Law student, Isra Abdi, 20, also went to India: "It was interesting getting to grips with the very active role law students there played in their lok adalat system; a system by which disputes are resolved in a 'people's court' overseen by various members of the legal profession."

The placements are funded by generous alumni donations and bursaries from Nottingham Trent University and are part of a range of pro bono opportunities available for students of Nottingham Law School. As part of the remit of the School's new Legal Advice Centre, students can also work on cases for clients of the Centre, local community outreach projects, the Miscarriages of Justice Project, and undertake other overseas internships.

Nick Johnson, director of the Nottingham Law School Legal Advice Centre, said: "The experience the students get when working on live cases or examining the law in other countries is invaluable to their studies. As well as helping students develop vital skills for their future careers, this work teaches them how the law affects people, shows them how to be professional no matter who their client is, and demonstrates how the law can be used for the benefit of the more vulnerable members of society."

Law students tackle death penalty cases and human rights violations on international placements

Published on 13 October 2014
  • Category: Press; Nottingham Law School

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