Justice in Action: Personal Support Unit and Me by Paula Virlan

Former ‘Justice in Action’ student Paula Virlan shares some of her journal posts written when volunteering for the Personal Support Unit ( now renamed ‘Support Through Court – https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/)

In November 2018, I completed my first shadowing session with the Personal Support Unit (PSU), part of the Justice in Action module offered by the Open University. After working ten days, I can share some of the roller-coaster of experiences and how PSU is helping me grow and develop professionally.

Extract 1. 8th/02/ 2019

Today I had a rather aggressive client. He was making a small money claim. He was very angry and started shouting. I kept calm and silent – not to fuel his anger. He calmed down after I handed him the form. In retrospect I should have offered a glass of water and reassured him. In the future I plan to say “I can understand your anger no one wants to be out of pocket. I am sure that the court will deal with your issue accordingly and if you need any more help we will be here”.

Extract 2. 9th/03/2019

A client needed help with a C100 form – ‘Apply for a court order to make arrangements for a child or resolve a dispute about their upbringing’. We discussed his case and what are his ultimate goals. He asked me to fill in the form for him. He insisted I do it because I probably write better than him. I politely informed him we only do so if clients are illiterate and even then, only taking their dictation. I also explained that this was a rule of conduct of the PSU which I was not able to break.

Extract 3. 12th /03/2019

A N9 ‘acknowledgement of service’ form for rental accommodation debt needed a response. Our client’s written English was very poor. I read out loud and explained all the questions on the form. I then wrote down her answers and she thanked me multiple times. Helping her was effortless but I see how much it meant for her. I realise that support of any kind, no matter how small, can help someone cope with a difficult situation. Now, I can better appreciate how important it is that everyone, regardless of nationality or knowledge, have access to justice.

Other clients have cried, some needed to be listened to. I need to improve how I comfort them. I will acknowledge their efforts more. Encourage them to see their applications through. Remind them that the court will deal with their issue according to the law. Win or lose, their present situation will end, and they will be able to move on. excellent reflection

Different activities, such as a cake sale has got me baking for the first time. I therefore helped raise funds for the PSU. This will enable us to carry out all the important work we do across the country.

PSU helped me use, develop, and identify skills I need to refine whilst upholding the legal values and ethics that we share. These experiences helped me see the importance of access to justice for all. I will keep volunteering with the PSU. I would recommend it to any fellow student.