Hear from the first School of Law students to take part in the Clinical Legal Exchange Programme in Trinidad and Tobago
Alexandra Tanase, English and European Law LLB studentIdhil Jama, Business with Law LLB student
We were both extremely excited to be chosen as the first ever Queen Mary students to be selected as representatives on the Clinical Legal Exchange Programme with the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS) in Trinidad and Tobago. This unique opportunity is designed to give students; the first-hand experience of working in a law clinic in a Caribbean jurisdiction, visiting the local courts, and attending classes. The exchange programme aims to give students a sound understanding of laws, legal rules and processes as well as the impact of the legal system on the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Both of us share a passion for pro bono work and social justice. By researching clinical legal education, volunteering as Student Advisers and taking part in community projects within the Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre (LAC), we were well equipped with the essential skills and knowledge to fully engage with the High Wooding Legal Aid Clinic.
When we arrived, it felt like a home away from home due to the warm and inclusive atmosphere at the HWLS. We were lucky enough to visit Maracas Beach the day after we arrived and tried a delicious local speciality; Bake and Shark. We also met with Queen Mary alumni currently studying at HWLS who gave us loads of tips to help us further prepare for the week ahead.
It was really interesting to compare and contrast the QMLAC and HWLS Legal Aid Clinic. The Legal Aid Clinic is an in-house advice and representation clinic which replicates the type of service clients would expect from a solicitors firm, including the fact that they see cases right through to representation. By contrast, the QMLAC’s involvement with the client is limited and offers one-off advice in the form of an advice letter. Whilst at HWLS, we were able to read some of the client files, which gave us an appreciation of the similarities and differences between the two legal systems. We were surprised to see that there were so many parallels, such as the same legal principles in cases related to land law. We also had the chance to see a DNA testing case for the first time!
The exchange programme strengthened our skill sets as students and future lawyers by engaging us in character-building activities. A quest of the library improved our legal research skills by requiring us to locate original texts and statutes rather than relying solely on technology. We also took part in time management exercises which taught us the importance of prioritising tasks when dealing with day-to-day activities – a vital skill in any career.
We were particularly curious to learn more about the Venezuelan migrant crisis during the Monday morning human rights clinic. We heard about the social and economic strain that the crisis is placing on Trinidad and Tobago, including the lack of capacity in the internal detention centres, and how the confinement of migrants conflicts with the principle of Habeas Corpus.
A visit to the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago’s Family Court and also to the Children’s Court gave us first hand insight into real-life cases. We saw how the courts function and assist with cases. We also learnt about services including Child Protection and the Juvenile Court Project offered by the Children's Court.
We assisted in the selection process of students to represent HWLS in the Lex Caribbean Client Interviewing Competition. During the client interview simulations, we enjoyed seeing the different approaches to the same scenario and hearing constructive feedback given to candidates. We also had the opportunity to sit on the jury for a criminal trial simulation. It was a truly amazing experience to witness the passionate, hard-working students at HWLS. They were inspiring.
The clinical legal education exchange programme has been a life-changing experience especially due to the incredible people we met along the way. We are especially thankful to our new friends in Trinidad and Tobago, the members of staff who accompanied us on the exchange, and also to the LAC for organising such an enriching trip.
The award winning Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre (LAC) provides a free, accessible, client centred advice service to the public.
Legal Advice is delivered by LAC Student Legal Advisers under the supervision of qualified lawyers.
Visit the Queen Mary Legal Advice website to find out more.