Armed forces veterans will be offered free legal support thanks to an innovative new scheme from the University of Bristol as part of its commitment to those in the military and their families.
Students from the University’s Law School will offer pro bono legal support on a range of issues, from housing to employment rights.
Bristol is the latest higher education institution in the UK to sign the Armed Forces Covenant, which aims to remove barriers faced by members of the armed forces community in accessing public services.
In addition to offering legal support, the University has committed to being an armed forces-friendly organisation and to offering a degree of flexibility for the partners of those currently serving.
The news has been welcomed by Universities UK, which is encouraging its members to sign the covenant and is sharing within the sector the approaches different universities have taken to enact it.
Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK said: “We believe anyone with the desire and potential to succeed at university should have the opportunity to do so. The Armed Forces Covenant helps universities to ensure armed forces personnel, veterans and their families face no disadvantage as a result of their service.
“This initiative from the University of Bristol is a fantastic example of how higher education providers can facilitate opportunities for a group whose specific challenges are often overlooked, while making a meaningful impact in their local community and wider society.”
It follows a call from the Department of Education earlier this year for universities to do more to support forces veterans and the children of service men and women who have lost their lives during duty.
Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “We’re tremendously proud to support armed forces personnel and veterans in this way. As part of our commitment to be a civic university, we have a responsibility to support everyone living in Bristol and our neighbouring communities.
“Through signing this covenant and pledging our ongoing support, we hope to help veterans readjust to civilian life after they’ve provided such an important service to our country.”
Jon Beake, Senior Regional Employer Engagement Director at the Ministry of Defence, said: “Many veterans face challenges adjusting to civilian life as a direct, or indirect, result of their service to our country. The Armed Forces Covenant is a pledge of support that is critical to the wellbeing of Defence personnel.
“We are delighted the Law Clinic is realising the University of Bristol’s pledge with an initiative that will empower veterans to gain access to the same legal support they need as any other citizen while they adjust to life after the forces.”
About the Veteran’s Law Clinic
For the past five years the University of Bristol Law Clinic has provided much-needed pro-bono legal advice for the local community on a range of issues including housing and property, landlord and tenant disputes, neighbour and nuisance disputes, employment rights, consumer rights, problems with the police, welfare benefits and social security.
The aim has always been to provide invaluable real-life experience for students while helping people in the face of declining legal aid. In 2018/2019, the Law Clinic helped more people in the community than ever before, taking on 271 cases. This academic year, 220 students are involved.
Following the foundations laid this year, the Law Clinic will play a key role in fulfilling the University’s commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant by ensuring members of the armed forces get the same access to legal support as any other citizen through the launch of a new Veterans Law Clinic.
The Veteran Law Clinic will provide an invaluable service by helping ex-service people with assistance, expertise and support. Regardless of where they live, veterans can get in touch with the Law Clinic and request help via its website.
Students in the Law Clinic have already had an opportunity to hone their skills and knowledge by advising the community’s most vulnerable people through projects including Mind, Bristol Drugs Project, Bristol Women’s Voice and the Inquest service.
Omar Madhloom, Senior Lecturer in the University of Bristol Law School and practicing solicitor, laid the foundations for the University signing the covenant and said: “Signing the covenant represents a promise by the University that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly. In our specific case, the Law Clinic will offer both legal and holistic support to veterans and serving members as well as their families.”
Law Clinic Director, John Peake, added: “The problems of ex-servicemen and women adapting to civilian life are well-recorded and often result in homelessness, unemployment and the consequential health and legal problems. Our students recognise the contribution and sacrifices made by the armed forces personnel and are keen to give something back.”
Susannah Burley, Student Vice Director at University of Bristol Law Clinic, is in her 3rd year studying Law. She said: “As a student advisor, I have learnt just how important it is to promote social justice and access to legal information. This ethos has shaped my career aspirations and I intend to continue supporting pro bono organisations in the future.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to see the impact our services have on the community and to work with a wide range of clients.
“The newly established Veteran’s Clinic is an indispensable service, ensuring that current and ex-service people and their families, have access to information about their rights and assistance to deal with legal issues.”