Rachel Butt: Winner of the Outstanding Advocate of the Year award 2016
Sponsored by Peter Edwards Law
I first became introduced to the role of advocacy as a volunteer advocate/caseworker at Coventry Refugee Centre in 2007 at the age of 22.
Up until that point my life had been focused around music making, and performing as a drummer in a pop punk band. I had began to feel unfulfilled and the desire to do something useful for others as well as fulfilling my own dreams lead me to seek out the position.
I quickly found this work sparked a fire in me, with deep respect to the clients I was meeting on a daily basis who faced such adversity with grace and dignity.
I was inspired by my working colleagues, many of whom had sought asylum years ago and wanted to help others in need. I was appalled by the level of discrimination and the struggles facing our clients due to treatment by professionals and undue process. I learnt as much as I could during the six months I volunteered there three times per week.
It was clear that in dealings with the Home Office that, ‘knowledge is power’ and I felt the pull to deepen my learning, since I’d become fascinated by using the law as a tool. Despite having only vocational qualifications in music, with the support of the Centre and some determination I applied to study Law at the University of Sussex.
I was thrilled to be accepted and enjoyed three challenging years of study where I specialised in Human Rights and International Law and continued advocating in the voluntary sector.
Since graduating I decided to take my learning back to the voluntary sector and continue working with people in a holistic way, looking at the whole picture and using the law to secure entitlements outside the courtroom. I was lucky enough to secure some part time work as an advocate at Brighton and Hove Impetus in 2011.
Since then I have immersed myself in the rights of parents with learning disabilities which is the area of advocacy specialism I work in. I was alarmed to see that 100% of our clients had their children removed from their care once care proceedings were initiated. The process did not seem ‘fair’ so I set to work on understanding the law and policy in the area, making links with key academics and specialist lawyers to ensure we were best placed to stand up for parents’ rights and challenge poor practice effectively.
This year we released a short film to highlight the issues faced by our clients:
We submitted the film along with evidence of the legal and economic arguments for change to the Fairness Commission, a body set up to find out how to make Brighton & Hove ‘a fairer and more equal place to live and work’.
The Commission supported our arguments and included our recommendations for necessary change in their final report on 27th June 2016 (p.46)
We are now working with the local authority to secure implementation of these recommendations and in addition, have received funding from the Baring foundation to share our legal learning with advocates across the UK in the form of a rights resource, which we will launch in the new year.
Here’s an update on what we’ve been up to recently: