The Legal Clinic: ‘Opening the ‘Doors of the Academic Castle’

The Lund Disability Human Rights Clinic was started by RWI in 2019, together with the Faculty of Law at Lund University and two disability rights organisations, the Independent Living Institute and the Swedish Disability Rights Federation.

The Clinic in Lund has been shaped by the RWI’s spirit of cooperation. Learning from the legal clinic at Uppsala University, the clinic has also benefitted from the knowledge and experience from RWI’s global partners. These partners have decades of experience of Clinical Legal Education (CLE), which is a hands-on and problem-based legal teaching and learning method that puts the student at the center. It also includes the practical work of students on real cases and social issues.

Working on a case study with human rights organisations

The clinic now runs as an elective specialisation course for a limited number of students at the Master of Laws in International Human Rights Law at the Faculty of Law, Lund University. Eight students – divided into two groups – get the opportunity to carry out a case study, based on a real legal case in a period of eight to ten weeks.

During the project, the students work together with organisations promoting Human Rights. In the Lund Disability Human Rights Clinic, the disability rights organisations, e.g. Independent Living institute (ILI), provide information on strategic problems experienced by persons with disabilities.

The students then investigate these challenges, under the supervision of academics, as well as professionals from the organisations. The students gain practical as well as research experience in disability rights law.

“It is a simple win-win”, says Anna Bruce. “The organizations get qualified legal assistance, and the students get the experience of working on real legal questions and cases, together with practicing lawyers.”

Acquiring professional experience

Anna Lie is one of the 2020 legal clinic participants. Her group worked for ILI and focused on the existence of a right for people over 65 years old to personal assistance in Sweden, in light of both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The role of the students – assisted by Anna Bruce – was to assess the needs of the client, ILI, as well as define what they could do to build a case. Through this experience, students get the opportunity to put their academic learnings from the Law Faculty into practice. For Anna Lie, the legal clinic has been a way to “face reality and see how the law plays out and how you can be a part of that.”

“Usually, it is difficult to gain practical experiences before you graduate. And, it is difficult to learn the process of building a case merely through theory. You have to do it in order to learn how to.”
Anna Lie, Former Participant of the 2020 Legal Clinic

Interacting with experts

Another important aspect of the programme is the first-hand involvement of legal practitioners. Students get to meet, exchange their ideas and thoughts with them. During 2020, they got the chance to meet Theresia Degener, former chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The students also had the opportunity to exchange thoughts with Elisabeth Fura, Swedish Lawyer and former judge at the European Court of Human Rights.

“During this whole journey we had the amazing opportunity to talk to legal practitioners and experts in the field”, Anna Lie says.

Valuable research to organisations

The project goes beyond the exercise itself. Once the project is over and the report submitted, the organisations will publish the reports that the students have worked with. The students’ work provide these organisations with precious research results on issues they would like to address themselves, but often lack the resources to investigate. As for the students, they gain hands-on experience and have learned “how to work purposefully”.

In the report, Anna Lie and her fellow students, analysed the categorical denial in Sweden of personal assistance to persons over 65 with disabilities. Without such support they are unable to participate in political, public and cultural life.

The issue: Is this in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights?

Anna Lie summarises their conclusion:

“The blanket denial of personal assistance to persons over 65 is directly discriminatory. This can be reasonably and objectively justified neither under the CRPD nor under the ECHR. We see good chances for a successful case.”

The Legal Clinic is also a commitment which can open doors to future opportunities besides opening the doors of what Anna call “the academic castle”.

She says:

“It has made me not only a better academic, but also a better jurist. The course was the first real chance as part of my legal training to do what I have been prepared to do. I could finally increase my knowledge about an important topic and gain competence, as an aspiring human rights lawyer. Knowing that our work would have actual effect in the world outside academia, gave me a sense of meaning.”

Ola Linder, lawyer at the Independent Living Institute, is also satisfied:

“Because of the excellent work of the students and the collaboration with RWI, we how have a deep and systematic human rights analysis of an issue we identified as central for persons with disabilities in Sweden. Our organization would not otherwise have been able to free the time and legal expertise required to do this.”

Read more: Clinical Legal Education

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