"Salford University law students will offer free legal help to vulnerable people hit by benefits sanctions in a bid to overcome drastic and devastating cuts to legal aid.
From next week students in Salford Business School will help guide people through the legal process and offer free training and support.
Law students will be trained to act as ‘Community Companions’.
Based upon something called the ‘Mckenzie friend principle’, these are people who can assist a litigant in person in a court of law.
It’s a joint project with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the city.
The biggest source of legal problems for locals at the moment are benefits appeal tribunals, say Salford Law, where there is “substantial local need”.
“Large swathes of the local community are being left without access to legal services and are being left to fend for themselves in an often technical and confusing system,” said Head of Law at The University of Salford, Dr Shane Sullivan.
70% of cases in Civil courts now see people representing themselves because they can’t afford professional legal representation.
By early 2013 18% of cases in the Family Court saw parties with no legal representation. By the end of the year this had increased to 42%.
Third year Law student Lorna Benson will be one of the first to take part.
She said: “Growing up in the Salford area I can relate to the issues that these people are going through, which hopefully will give them more confidence to speak openly with me.
“We want to help people gain a better understanding of our legal system and for them to be able navigate their way through it.”
Legal aid was first introduced in the UK in 1949 as part of the new welfare state.
But rounds of cuts in 2004, 2007 and 2010 slashed the number of people eligible for free legal help.
And the Ministry of Justice still wants to cut around £220m a year from the legal aid bill, hitting the country’s most deprived areas hardest.
The CLOCK (Community Legal Outreach Collaboration) project will see Law students lending a hand.
Dr Sullivan added: “This is a great project for Salford to be involved in.
“It gives our students experience of dealing with real legal situations, and it also provides a vital service to the community and the most vulnerable members of it.”