Emma Ritch Law Clinic to improve access to justice for sexual offence cases
The University of Glasgow has been awarded funding to establish a unique law clinic designed to increase access to justice in Scotland for complainers in sexual offences cases, through the provision of independent legal advice and representation by practising Scottish solicitors, without charge.
The first of its kind in the UK, the Emma Ritch Law Clinic will honour Emma Ritch, a pioneering campaigner for women’s rights and graduate of the University, who sadly passed away in 2021.
As well as offering legal advice, through a specially constituted legal practice unit, the Emma Ritch Law Clinic will offer innovative teaching to students, enabling the next generation of Scottish lawyers to gain critical legal and ethical skills. It will also produce valuable research, providing an insight into the difference that specialist legal advice and representation can make to complainers’ experiences of prosecution, and gather data to better understand why cases might fail to reach, or progress, through the criminal justice system.
The Clinic will also instil awareness of trauma-informed lawyering, and the practice of criminal law, an area with longstanding issues in terms of recruitment and retention.
Situated in the University’s School of Law, it will be led by three Co-Directors, Mr Eamon Keane, Dr Jacqueline Kinghan and Professor Nicole Busby with complementary expertise in legal practice, education and research respectively. Seed funding to establish the clinic has been provided by the Sam and Bella Sebba Foundation with additional support provided by the Scottish Government.
It will operate in partnership with Rape Crisis Scotland, and other referral agencies, to target unmet legal need in Scotland through the provision of specialist legal advice and representation.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the Clinic for its opening event.
The former alumna, who studied Law at the University, commented that she had been hugely impressed at the work the UofG has done during her time as First Minister.
“I visited the University Law School this morning, always a very happy trip down memory lane for me, to hear more about the Clinic, which will be the first of its kind in Scotland and offer services to victims of sexual offences from across Scotland. The Clinic will be a fitting tribute to Emma Ritch and to her formidable legacy as a fearless advocate of women’s rights. I hope it will make an important and transformative difference to women and girls’ experience of the criminal justice system in years to come.”
Speaking in Parliament that same day, she said: “The Law School is leading this transformative step forward and this supports one of my last acts as First Minister, which will be a bigger programme of reform of the criminal justice system to meet women’s needs.”
Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “The Emma Ritch Clinic could be transformative for rape complainers seeking justice in Scotland.
“We know that many survivors feel as though they are at the margins of the justice process and unprepared for the experience of going to court. It can also be hard for survivors to meaningfully access their rights because of difficulties accessing suitable legal advice and representation. Having access to a lawyer who understands the system can make a huge difference to somebody’s experience.
“The Emma Ritch Clinic will help Scotland lead the way in improving rape survivors’ access to justice. Emma Ritch was a long time member of the Rape Crisis Scotland Board of Directors and was passionate about improving rape survivors’ position in the justice system. We’re very grateful to the University of Glasgow for naming the clinic after Emma. We can’t think of a more fitting legacy.”
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, commented: “The Emma Ritch Law Clinic represents the continued commitment to develop social change legal education at the University of Glasgow. The Clinic joins a series of initiatives designed by the School of Law to support our students and academics to use the law and their legal skills to make a positive difference to society.
“The University of Glasgow is a civically-minded institution, and we are therefore very proud to partner with the Scottish Government, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Sebba Foundation to host this valuable and much needed service. We hope the Clinic will help shape the national development of legal advice for survivors of sexual offences into the future.”
The Emma Ritch Law Clinic aims to support the Scottish Government’s ambitions to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. It is due to open in September 2023.
First published: 8 March 2023