The Emma Ritch Law Clinic will open at the University of Glasgow in September.
A unique law clinic to improve access to justice for complainers in sexual offences cases will be established in honour of a pioneering Scottish women’s campaigner, it has been announced.
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.
Ms Ritch was executive director of Engender, and sat on the board of Rape Crisis Scotland.
The University of Glasgow has now 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.
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.
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.”
The announcement was made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Emma Ritch was a champion of justice and equality, and a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Having a law clinic set up in her memory is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman and a titan of Scotland’s feminist movement.
“I am pleased to announce the Scottish Government’s commitment to support and work with the Emma Ritch Law Clinic at the University of Glasgow. The research carried out here will allow for enhanced provision of trauma-informed legal advice, and representation for victims of sexual offences and other forms of gender-based violence to be explored.
“Aligning with the Scottish Government’s Vision for Justice in Scotland, the clinic will produce valuable research, and is an important step in providing an insight into the difference that specialist independent legal advice and representation can make to complainers’ experiences.”
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.
Posting on social media, Engender wrote: “Excellent news about the establishment of the Emma Ritch Clinic at the University of Glasgow, which will lead the way in improving rape survivors' access to justice - what a fitting tribute to both Emma's passionate support for survivors and the dedication of our sisters at Rape Crisis Scotland.”
Before Engender, Emma was manager of Close the Gap - which campaigns to improve women's status in the workplace - for nine years, and worked extensively on women’s labour market participation.
She also sat on a range of external working groups including the joint strategic board of Equally Safe, the Scottish National Action Plan for human rights leadership forum, the advisory group of the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group.
She chaired the Rape Crisis Scotland board, was vice-convener of the board of Close the Gap, and was also a member of the Scotland Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.