Host Organisation: Law Centre (Northern Ireland)

Owen McCloskey

Owen studied in Queen’s University Belfast gaining an LLB in Law and MSSc in Criminology. Owen was involved with cross community and cross border youth work before achieving an ambition to travel around the world. On his return he began working as a tribunal representative and adviser for Citizens Advice. This provided a wide range of experience in employment, consumer and especially social security advice. Over a 10-year period he gained experience of advocating directly on behalf of clients at first tier and upper tribunal including representation in reported case law.

In 2011 Owen started working with Law Centre NI, contributing to the development of the Legal Support Project which provided pro bono representation at social security and employment tribunals. Subsequently Owen managed the Legal Support Project and a number of other Law Centre NI projects before moving into a social security legal officer role. This legal officer role involves providing specialist support to the advice sector within Northern Ireland in addition to assisting clients directly. During this time Owen has taken many leading test cases on behalf of clients including tribunal of commissioner hearings, multiple judicial reviews and a court of appeal hearing.

As part of his role in Law Centre NI Owen has written briefing papers, developed guides and used the media to make social security more accessible to advisers and the general public. He has produced a digital guide of what to expect in Social Security Tribunals which has been viewed tens of thousands of times. Owen has trained hundreds of volunteer tribunal representatives and continues to enjoy teaching social security law to undergraduate and post graduate students in both of the Northern Ireland Universities.

Owen has loved working with Law Centre NI and is therefore delighted to be undertaking his trainee solicitor apprenticeship with this organisation. This will enable him to continue the case work he is passionate about and provide him with the qualifications necessary to further advance his work in this field. He is also looking forward to gaining further experience in other areas of the law during his apprenticeship.

Project

Owen is hoping to build on his experience in the Legal Support Project and use his JFF Project to develop a sustainable Pro Bono representation model that could be adopted by his employer. Statistics consistently show that representation at tribunal greatly improves the likelihood of a positive outcome for the appellant. There is also demand from potential volunteers for representation experience and the desire to help those in need of assistance. Owen will research representation demand among a number of different judicial forums with specific focus on areas where demand is not currently being met from legal aid. The project will consider where a manageable pro bono representation unit can most efficiently and effectively address representation locally. The project will also explore and map out an innovative way of sustainably funding a pro bono representation service. It is anticipated that multiple funder requirements will be investigated through research and direct contact. A model will also be produced to best evaluate and report to funders that objectives are being met. It is hoped the project will outline the most suitable pro bono representation model and the best sources to sustainably fund this project. Therefore, the objective will be to produce all the necessary information to support a successful application for funding for a pro bono representation project.

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