Former College of Law student Ben Spencer from Newnham, Cambridge, has received a national award for his voluntary work campaigning for human rights.
Ben was presented with the International Human Rights Award during the recent Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Awards at the Law Society in London.
The annual awards celebrate the pro bono work undertaken by law students, trainees and newly qualified solicitors, which provides free legal advice to people otherwise unable to afford it.
Ben’s human rights prize was in memory of Nick Webber, a newly qualified solicitor with law firm Ashurst, who was tragically killed in a car accident in Malawi in 2004 while working for a human rights organisation.
Ben, who now works as a family and employment paralegal in the legal aid department of Cambridge law firm Ginn & Co, received the award for work carried out while studying for his Legal Practice Course at The College of Law in London Bloomsbury, which he completed in July.
He volunteered with the College’s Legal Advice Centre, which gives free legal guidance to the local community. He also assisted at the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens Advice Bureau, which included a special assignment for the Miscarriages Of Justice Support Service.
As an intern at the Law Society, Ben was instrumental in implementing a new project involving more than 300 law students, practitioners and activists – the International Action Team. He supervised research into human rights violations around the world and the drafting of intervention letters requesting compliance with international law. He worked on fifty-one international intervention cases during the course of the year.
Sara Chandler, pro bono coordinator with The College of Law said: “Ben excelled in his dedication to his clients. He is just the sort of quiet hero the profession needs and deserves this important recognition of the time and effort he put into his volunteer work."
The College of Law is Britain’s largest legal training organisation for student solicitors and barristers and attracts some of the country’s most able students.
Speaking about his award Ben said: “It was an honour to be given the award by Nick Webber's mother, Pauline. I hope I can continue to do justice to the award in my career in legal aid by assisting those who are disenfranchised or dispossessed of rights.
He continued: “I was lucky to be asked to coordinate one of the Law Society's most expansive human rights campaigns, which focuses on protecting lawyers in other jurisdictions whose independence is threatened or whose rights are violated by the State."
Ben Spencer (left) receives his International Human Rights Award from Nick Webber’s mother Pauline and Kevin Poulter, chair of the JLD Pro Bono Awards 2009
Now aged 38, Ben swapped a career in film production for a legal career as he was looking for greater challenges. After leaving The College of Law he continued his pro bono work and earlier this year volunteered with the Cambridge Law Centre until it closed due to the insolvency of its parent company, Advice for Life.
He said: “The closure of the Law Centre left a massive constituency without access to legal help and there was a real danger of many active cases being abandoned. Ginn & Co, which is a general practice, stepped up to ensure that many of the Law Centre's clients could pursue their cases in Employment, Debt and Housing.
“Cambridgeshire is one of the country's most deprived areas in terms of access to legal services and Ginn & Co is developing a plan to implement new and far-reaching provision."