By Maisie Wilson
My role at JustRight Scotland
As of the start of 2023, I have been with JustRight Scotland for a year, working as a Legal Caseworker for the Scottish Just Law Centre (SJLC). And what a year it has been!
The Scottish Just Law Centre focuses most of its attention to discrimination and the Equality Act 2010, with our partner organisations being Inclusion Scotland and Scottish Trans. Currently, the SJLC is the smallest centre within JustRight Scotland (JRS) with Barbara Bolton most recently coming on as the senior solicitor in the centre as well as a Partner and Legal Director of JRS as a whole. Having joined in October, I am excited for what the future has in store for the centre and working with Barbara on all things related to SJLC.
Work within the SJLC
My first year at the centre has flown by, and I have had the opportunity to contribute to important legislation intended to create a fairer and more just society here in Scotland. In the summer, I attended the Court of Sessions with our client regarding her case against the Scottish Government. She had been denied student funding due to the discriminatory ‘long-residency’ test which is included in the eligibility criteria by the Student Awards Agency Scotland.
Together with our client and instructed Advocate, we successfully won the case. The judge deemed that the ‘long residency’ rule excluded eligibility for student support for individuals – such as our client – who had a clear and continuing connection with Scotland. As such, the judge ruled that SAAS regulations were unlawful in light of the right to education, and the right not to be discriminated against as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
This strategic case has resulted in SAAS having to rethink their eligibility criteria, whilst also creating a payment scheme for those who had missed out on funding in recent years due to the unlawful ‘long-residency’ test. This change will hopefully allow more students who now call Scotland their home to be able to rightfully access funding for higher and further education when they may not have been eligible for it prior to this case. It also demonstrated to me how important our clients are and why their determination and resilience in the face of systemic barriers is a power to behold.
Over the past year, the SJLC has also been involved in the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill – together with Amnesty International Scotland, by submitting a joint briefing to MSPs of the Scottish Parliament to support Stage 1 Debate. I have been responsible for providing insights on what the international legal standards and best practices are in regard to human rights and gender recognition. Embedding myself within the factual and accurate international picture of gender recognition has been a powerful experience. It has been an incredible learning curve, and to see cross-party support for the Bill in Scotland was a hopeful moment in a time of such political polarisation.
Aside from working in the Scottish Just Law Centre, I also had the opportunity to work within the Scottish Refugee and Migrant Centre, and the Scottish Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Centre. The work that these two centres do is so critical in creating a safer and just Scottish society and I feel honoured to have been able to join their welcoming teams over the summer. My time in these centres allowed me to learn more about the legalities of the hostile immigration system enforced in the UK, and the important work that my colleagues in those centres do to help and support refugee and asylum seekers who are seeking safety in Scotland.
The Ukraine Advice Scotland project
In the outbreak of the unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine, two great members of the team at JRS identified the then gap in legal advice for those having to leave Ukraine and as such helped to set up Ukraine Advice Scotland (UAS). In March of last year, I started working within the UAS project along with other colleagues. In the last year, the centre was able to answer over 2000 individual enquiries, offer outreach sessions, conduct a survey of the experiences of Ukrainians who have come to Scotland, as well as publish research papers on the matter. UAS was also nominated for an award at the Scottish Law Awards, and I was able to attend alongside the great Jennifer Blair. I am grateful that I am able to continue my work within the UAS team, and also for working in an organisation that manages to adapt so quickly to what services are needed. I find the dedication to defending and extending human rights by my colleagues at JustRight Scotland very humbling.
The breadth of work I have been able to get involved in has been incredible, and this is due to the collaborative approach taken by JustRight Scotland, along with colleagues’ enthusiasm and ambition for furthering human rights in Scotland. This has allowed me the opportunity to run outreach sessions for grassroots organisations along with fellow caseworkers, and have an article co-written with another colleague to be published in a national newspaper.
My hopes for the future
This has all been within the last twelve months, and I am curious to see what the next twelve have in store. When it seems like so many rights are currently under threat and up for debate, it can be easy to lose hope; however, the team that I have around me are always there to give me a boost. Our clients are also at the heart of what we do and continue to inspire us to fight the good fight.
Whenever people ask me where I work, I feel honoured to reply ”JustRight Scotland.”