Justice first fellow

An unconventional yet holistic route to the Bar for the Justice First Fellow at the Public Law Project and a meaningful use of law


I rarely wear a suit; I work for the Public Law Project, which is a charity, rather than at a barristers’ chambers; and my Justice First Fellowship lasts for two years, rather than the usual one-year pupillage. Becoming a Justice First Fellowship (JFF) may be an unconventional way to train as a barrister, but it is allowing me to pursue a career at the Bar, and fulfil my commitment to using the law to make a difference. Through my JFF at PLP, I get to play a meaningful role in strategic policy work and litigation that advances the rights of marginalised groups.

For example, PLP is at the forefront of civil society’s efforts to protect migrants’ rights after Brexit. In particular, PLP is committed to ensuring that the EU Settlement Scheme, the application process through which EEA nationals and their family members can secure their rights to remain in the UK after Brexit, operates fairly. I first engaged with the scheme through working on PLP’s strategic partnership with the Lankelly Chase Foundation. In this partnership, PLP assists grassroots organisations understand how public law can be used to address the systemic unfairness their service users experience.

One such organisation is Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT), which works to protect the rights of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (GRT). Although Irish citizens do not have to apply through the scheme to secure their rights, FFT’s Roma service users will have to. As Roma are one of the most discriminated against groups in society, we recognised that an unfair application process could disproportionately impact them. Fortunately, FFT had just been appointed as the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on GRT rights and worked closely with us on this issue. As soon as the government published its detailed proposals for the scheme, we produced a briefing paper for the APPG highlighting issues with the proposals. This work made a significant impact in informing GRT groups and parliamentarians about the scheme. The APPGs on GRT rights and Migration convened an event in parliament to address the issues in our briefing paper and it was humbling when Baroness Whitaker closed the session by thanking PLP.

PLP’s detailed understanding of the EU Settlement Scheme made us well placed to represent the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) in the first judicial review of the scheme. When the government published its proposals, it stated that only ‘serious or persistent criminals’ would be rejected on the basis of ‘suitability’. However, the immigration rules did not reflect these commitments. JCWI withdrew its claim following major concessions made by the Home Secretary in the course of litigation, which will ensure fairer and more proportionate decision-making. My pupillage supervisor was JCWI’s junior counsel and was instructed by a PLP solicitor.

I am continuing to work on migrants’ rights issues arising from Brexit. PLP is carefully monitoring the accessibility of the scheme and recently convened a roundtable for organisations that support vulnerable applicants. Recently we submitted written evidence to the House of Commons’ Public Bill Committee of the Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill, which highlighted the dangers of overly broad delegated powers in the Bill and the need for a tribunal appeal right for applicants to the scheme.

I also undertake the conventional activities of a first-six pupil: I shadow barristers in court (these are the rare occasions that I wear a suit), attend conferences with clients and produce first drafts and research notes for my pupillage supervisor. In addition to my training at PLP, I am fortunate to have been a seconded trainee at Matrix and I participate in the pupillage training courses at Garden Court. I am due to qualify as a barrister and graduate as a Justice First Fellow later this year.

The Legal Education Foundation created the Justice First Fellowship scheme because of concerns about where the next generation of social welfare lawyers would come from, following a drop in the number of available training contracts and pupillages. As well as our legal training, fellows are also trained in extra skills, like communications, business planning and fundraising. At PLP, I am getting holistic legal training, which includes conventional pupillage tasks, plus policy work and assisting with all stages of litigation. Together, I hope the scheme is giving me the full range of skills needed to meet my ambition of using the law to advance social justice

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Ollie Persey

Ollie Persey is a Justice First Fellow and trainee barrister at the Public Law Project.