Law

The Fight Goes On!


My, yesterday was a busy day. I’d meant to write this blog entry yesterday, but honestly by the time I got back from Wokingham Borough Civic Offices I was so tired we just went straight to bed.

But now I’m awake, and coffee-ed, so it’s time to get to the keyboard. Firstly, graduation went brilliantly. I am now Matthew Stephen Dent LLB, after finishing three years of study at the University of Sussex with a 2:1 in Law, and a hug from Sanjeev Bhaskar. Seriously, there’s video evidence:

Congratulations to all Sussex graduates, particularly my fellow lawyers. Everyone has worked extremely hard, and I wish you all the very best in your futures, wherever they take you.

Secondly was, of course, the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe by-election, about which I’ve been harping on for months now. Yesterday was polling day, and saw me down at Woodcliffe Hall to vote before heading off down to Brighton. It’s been a great campaign, which has seen me have the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people. I loved every moment of it, and last night was the moment it call came to a head:

HALSALL, John (CON) – 850 votes (65.5%)

ALDER, Martin (LIB) – 272 votes (20.9%)

DENT, Matthew Stephen (LAB) – 94 votes (7.2%)

HEAPE, Andy (UKIP) – 55 votes (4.2%)

FOSS, Martyn (GREEN) – 19 votes (1.5%)

Me at the polling station yesterday, about to cast my vote in the by-election. Thank you to everyone who did the same!

So I got third place, and just over 7% of the vote, which is a fairly big improvement on Labour’s previous showings in the ward. Apparently the Lib Dems were a bit surprised at that, though Cllr Keith Baker claimed he’d expected an improved showing thanks to me (isn’t he sweet?).

I’m pleased with that. I beat UKIP, in what could be considered prime territory for them, and gained some ground on the Lib Dems. The seat is up for election again next May, so I’m hoping to use this result as a springboard to move forward off then, as part of a concentrated Labour attack on the four wards within Twyford and District Branch Labour Party’s purview where there will be elections (Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe, Twyford, Charvil and Hurst).

So thanks to everyone who offered support, helped me out with the campaign, and above all voted for me. I hope to see much more progress in the years to come, and thank you for joining me on this first step.

And the results are in…


So it’s finally over… Not completely, mind, I’ve still got graduation to go.  But I’ve passed. Three years of study, reading and hard work, and now I emerge with an LLB (Hons), Upper Second (2:1) from the University of Sussex.

Congratulations to everyone else from the class of 2011. By all accounts it’s been a fantastic year for Sussex Law School, with 20 First Class grades, and I-don’t-know-how-many Upper Seconds. You’ve all doone brilliantly, and I wish you all the best in the future.

For my own part, I really couldn’t be happier. To see my hard work reach successful fruition really is a source of pride for me. But it would be ungracious and dishonest to claim this as a triumph purely my own. Many hands have contributed to this success, and I would be amiss not to thank them here:

To my lecturers and tutors at Sussex Law School, particularly this year, a lion’s share of the praise should be given: Craig Lind (Law and Politics of Britain and North America, Family Law), Charlotte Skeet (Law and Politics of Britain and North America), Heather Keeting (Family Law), Joe Brigeman (Family Law),  Jim McGregor (Law of Evidence), Richard Vogler (Dissertation supervisor), Elizabeth Craig (Dissertation supervisor), Mary Lee (first year Law of Contract, Chair of the Staff-Student Liason Committee), Kenny Vietch (academic advisor) and Craid Barker (Head of Sussex Law School).

And I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Doreen, Lynn and Jane who kept the whole gig moving smoothly along, with their tireless admin work behind the scenes.

And finally, thank you to all my friends, fellow students and familly for their support. Particukarl to Mum, Dad, and my beautiful, wonderful and ever-supportive Ashleigh.

Here’s to the future! Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning!

Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning


So it’s done. After three years of hard work, the like of which I never visualised before I started, my law degree is finished.

Even writing those words feels odd. The law and studying it has taken over my life so completely that I feel lost without it. And scared at having to make my way out into the big wide world. I hadn’t realised just how integral university was to my day-to-day existence. Now I only have to wait for my results, and go to graduation, and I’m done with it forever.

It’s interesting trying to think how my university experiences have changed me. I’m certainly a different person. I feel more confident in who I am, and I think I’ve grown up a lot too. My writing has come on massively, to the extent that I had my first paid publications last year. And I’ve awoken politically too. I’ve always been a Labour man, but I grew up largely under a Labour government, and had rather taken it for granted. Now I’m living under a Tory government, and I know it’s because I’d taken Labour for granted.

So what am I going to do now? I’m not sure really. I’ve started by redesigning (and retitling) my blog. Do you like it? Beyond that, I’m going to spend a good deal of time writing and reading. I haven’t written for pleasure since Christmas, and I have a to-read pile taller than I am. I do have some other plans which are coalescing, but I’ll blog about those at a later date, when there’s more to tell.

And before you know it, I’ll be Matthew S. Dent LLB. Isn’t that the most terrifying part of all?

No Win, No fee, No Access


The cuts to legal aid, and proposed restrictions on No Win No Fee represent an assault on democracy, and a real threat to justice in the United Kingdom

I’m currently deep in the studies for my final year exams, so I had decided I wasn’t going to blog until those were done. But life is unpredictable, and occasionally something will come along that outrages me so much that I have to rant about it, just so I don’t have a coronary.

Some background first. I’m a third year law student (studying at the University of Sussex, if you really want to know). I’m also a left winger, a Labour Party member, and a keen believer in equality and justice (of the social and legal variety). And I have a keen interest in politics, hence why I was watching the Budget on Wednesday afternoon.

And it was there that I heard George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer in a government increasingly dedicated to social and economic vandalism, announce that No Win No Fee cases were to be restricted, as part of a “growth” strategy to free small businesses from, I’m guessing, frivolous cases. This is part of a larger assault on the rights of employees, but that’s not where I’m coming from with this.

I’m not an ardent supporter of No Win No Fee (otherwise known as Conditional Fee), because it does have the potential to encourage both ambulance chasing on the part of law firms, and frivolous cases by claimants. However, the background and context of Conditional Fees should be considered.

They were introduced in 1990, in the Courts and Legal Services Act, as a part of the reduction in the scope of legal aid. The idea was that instead of the state paying large sums in legal aid, lawyers could be allowed to charge no fee to their client, except upon victory. Not a particularly positive move in my view, but you can see where it was coming from.

The current proposal to restrict Conditional Fees comes in a climate of heavy cuts. The Legal Aid bill has not escaped this. Legal Aid is being removed for matters of family law, clinical negligence, education, employment, immigration, benefits, debt and housing. Which is a fairly sweeping attack on the civil law.

The cynics amongst you may notice that certain of these areas are subject to cuts and “reform” in themselves, and that the cuts to legal aid in these areas will reduce the number of challenges the government will face on those matters. Whether or not you want to think that is deliberate is up to you, but it certainly seems suspicious to me.

But the really chilling aspect of this is just how many people will now be unable to access the courts in search of justice. One of the key principles of a free and democratic society is that the courts should be open to all, and that justice should be for everyone. Or at least, that’s what I believe is essential in a free and democratic society. Apparently the government disagrees. Restricting Conditional Fees is one thing, but when it excludes thousands of people from pursuing just cases simply because they don’t have the money, it becomes a disgrace and a repression of justice.

Please note, when I say “poor”, I don’t in fact mean poor. Lawyers are expensive. Very expensive. Whatever you think of that is irrelevant, because it’s how the situation stands. Only the richest can afford to pay lawyers to fight their case in the courts- anyone on middle, low or no incomes will not be able to afford it.

This will, no doubt, be lost in a squall of other arguments. The rest of the budget was far from exclusively good news, and I expect that arguing over tax cuts, cuts to inheritance tax, and economic growth will take precedence, but this is essentially important. The whole concept of the rule of law requires that unlawful behaviour and unjust acts can be challenged in the courts. These measures threaten that ability, and represent a chilling, terrifying assault on justice and democracy. This needs to be seen for what it really is.

The End is Nigh


Almost there...

And, like a cat in a box, as soon as there’s concrete evidence as to their status my exams suddenly feel very real. And very close.

After nearly three years of study, endgame is almost upon me. I’m on the cusp of making the transition from Law student to Law graduate, which actually sounds grander than it is, and a lot less scary than it is. I started university in the full knowledge that at the end of the third year I’d take exams which would count for the vast majority of my final grade, so why does it feel like they’ve snuck up on me?

I think part of it is just how quickly the time has gone. It still feels like the other week that I pitched up on the South Downs, fresh faced (and clean shaven) and eager to get started learning the law. And now I’m twenty, and about to finish this stage of my life. An in between has been a whole lot of reading textbooks and articles, writing essays, listening to lectures and debating the finer points of the law.

It’s not so much the exams that are terrifying, but the sheer concept of graduation. No longer is life going to be laid out before me, neatly mapped like an ordinance survey. I hadn’t really appreciated how simple it makes life, having a set plan before me. Being about to finish that plan feels like standing on the edge of an unknown void.

Still, it’s not over yet. In just over three months it will be, but I have to get their first. Wish me luck

Hi Ho, Hi Ho


…it’s back to work I go.

Approaching the final push...

I’m now back in Brighton, ready to kick off the penultimate term of my undergraduate law degree. Which, from my perspective, is scary stuff indeed. It’s an odd feeling, being so close to the end, but having such a mountain to climb before I get there. It’s certainly going to be a busy term.

Aside from my dissertation (10,000 words), which is coming along slowly but surely, there are another three 4,000 word essays to write (one in each remaining subject- Evidence, Family and Law & Politics). As well as the usual lectures, seminars, reading, research, etc, etc.

Yeah, a fair bit to achieve this term academically. Then there’s all the extra-curricular. Namely, my writing and politics. On the writing front, I’ve been doing less since I started my third year, really. I still pump out the occasional short story, but not at anything like the rate I did in my second year and over the summer. And now I’m trying to edit this novel by March, it might be a bit of a dry spell as far as short fiction is concerned.

Politically? Well, I’ll still be involving myself actively in that, both in the Labour Society at university, and the local party (as much as I can). I’m not sure how much I’ll be doing, but I’m eager for a big push (particularly in regards to the 1p membership for under 27s scheme) in the run up to the local elections in May. So I’ll be doing my share- or at least trying to.

But mostly, I’m just a little bemused that the end seems to have sneaked up on me so effectively. There’s a bridge ahead of me, and I really have no idea what’s on the other side. Post-graduation, I’ll need either to find a job, or find some way of studying a masters. If anyone has any job offers for a left-leaning, rather-literate, soon-to-be graduate, I’m all ears.

So here goes. One more term of learning, and then another of examining. This is what the last two and a bit years have been leading to. Time to take it head on, and see how I fare.

Distractions


The amount of writing I’ve been able to do lately has been distressingly negligible. I think it shows from the fact that it’s been over a week since I’ve updated this blog.

It all comes down to distraction really. This time of year is always busy academically, but in the final year of a law degree it reaches the point of truly mental, I’ve discovered. I don’t make things easy on myself, I know. I have a tendency to procrastinate, and to bite of much more than I can swallow.

The last few weeks I’ve had to knuckle down though. I’ve had 7,000 words worth of work to submit, as well as a presentation to do. To date I’ve done 3,500 words, and no presentation. Added to that, I’m hard at work researching and writing my dissertation (on the contemporary relevance of the Law of Treason, in case anyone’s interested), ever more deeply involved in Labour, and the Labour society at uni, and of course trying to keep up my writing. All under the shadow of “What am I going to do come June when I graduate?”

Perhaps if I was snowed in, I'd have more time to devote to writing...

I am still writing though, even if it is more slowly. I’ve recently finished the first drafts of a longish sci-fi short about dimensional rifts and military recruitment, and a short story about unicorns. No, I’m not joking. I’ve also been listening to a lot of fiction podcasts. There are so many great ones out there, but in particular I have to recommend Cast Macabre. It’s a relative newcomer, but has some very good little horror stories, and is lovingly produced by Barry Northern to a top quality standard. You should really take a look.

So there’s a snapshot of my life at present. Plenty of distractions, little in the way of tangible productivity. I’ll be fighting with uni work until term finishes for Christmas (and then probably over Christmas too), but I have a few itching projects just waiting for a time window. Windows I intend to make over the Christmas.

Of course, it could massively snow (again), and I could end up housebound in Brighton, with nothing but time to write. And thinking on it I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.

 

The Fire In Which We Burn


All in favour of putting a few more hours in the day?

I never seem to have enough time these days. I could do with a few more hours in the day really, just to get everything done that I need to and still have time for myself. By which, I of course mean writing.

Since getting back to uni, the workload has been breathtaking. I have spent more time in the library than ever before, and I have spent pretty much every evening reading, answering questions, hunting down the articles, and so on. The upshot of this is that I have less and less time to write. I’ve been back for almost four weeks now, and in that time I’ve only completed a single story. Way down on the quota.

And I have a good one (or at least, I think it’s good) bubbling away at the moment. I’m about halfway through writing it, but I’m struggling to find time to work on it, and now I’m worrying that it’s going to go stale sitting in my imagination. That I’ll lose my interest in it, my passion for it, and it will have been wasted.

I don’t know if other writers find this, but my ability to write always has an affect on my mood and disposition. It’s the same when I have writers’ block. My mood is always worse when I can’t (for whatever reason) write. I guess writing is my stress and frustration vent, the tap that I turn to release the pressure of daily life onto a blank page.

But at the moment, I’m not getting the time to do that. And it’s starting to take its toll.

I think I need to take a step back, and do something which I’ve always avoided doing before. I think I need to schedule a daily slot in which to do some writing. That idea has never appealed to me much, because as an essentially amateur writer I have other drains on my time (such as my law degree), and I’ve worried that it would stunt my creative energies. Except now I have plenty of creative energies, and no time to use them.

So I’m going to devote at least an hour each day to writing. Writing whatever, not necessarily this half completed story I mentioned. Just to keep my brain ticking over until the Christmas break, when I can mad and write my memoirs in blood on the wallpaper. Or maybe something less drastic, I don’t know yet.

But the fact of it is that I’m a writer. I can’t get away from that, it’s who I am, it’s when I feel complete. I’m not a law student who writes, I’m a write who’s studying law. And if I don’t write, then I’m not really anything, am I?

So what do we think? Scheduled writing, a good idea or not?

Oh, and bonus points to anyone who gets the reference in the title.

Vote for Me!


 

This smiling face is asking for your votes. How can you refuse?

I’d like to apologise to the no doubt many readers of this blog to whom it means nothing. Unusually, this is aimed specifically at third year Law students, at the University of Sussex- which is a rather small sector of the online population.

 

I’d also like to apologise for the utter lack of subtlety of the title and contents of this blog. Frankly, I’m sick of all the indirect tip-toeing around that seems to accompany politics and elections.

So there we go. I’m standing for election as a student representative for the 3rd year Law students at the University of Sussex. If you are one of those students, then you are eligible to vote. I would like you to vote for me.

Except, it’s a little more complex than that (isn’t it always). I’m the only candidate for 3rd year Law student rep. So I should automatically win, right? Well, yes, but I still need your votes.

The way the system works is that positions on committees are allocated on the basis of votes received. Since I’m also standing for the Student Senate, the Library Consultative Group, and the Student Experience Forum, I still need your votes in order to be able to get any of these positions.

If you vote for me, then it will be one vote closer to making sure that your own representative is on these committees, which means that you’ll have a direct line through me to those issues.

Now, this is the manifesto I posted on the election site:

“My name is Matthew, and I’m standing for election as your Student Rep because I recognise how important it is that our voices are heard. Particularly in a time when budget cuts are threatening to damage our education and university experience, we need to stand up at all levels for our rights. If elected, I will do my utmost to represent your views, positions and concerns to those in charge. If you wish to contact me, you can do so via my email (msd26@sussex.ac.uk) or Twitter (@MatthewSDent), and I will gladly answer any questions you have.”

All of that stands, but I thought since I’m not limited here to 100 words, I’d add a little more about myself.

I’m twenty. I’m a writer (published, actually) of short genre fiction. I’m a lefty. I’m a Christian. I’m a Liverpool FC fan (this one isn’t going so great at the moment). I read the Guardian. I drink coffee. I like to solve problems, both my own and other people’s. I speak my mind (not always to positive effect, but I’m always honest).

Maybe you like all of that. More likely there are things there you don’t agree with. I don’t apologise for that, but I will say that as your rep, I will endeavour to always be available to answer your questions, help you with issues, and generally be a friendly face when there’s a problem that needs sorting.

So please, take a look around my blog and get to know me. If you have any questions, you can contact me here, through Facebook, email or Twitter. And if you do want to vote for me, you can do so in the Library (turn left when you go in, and you’ll see the big “VOTE HERE” sign. Or you can vote on the student reps website. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but if you have any issues with it the nice people at ITS will be able to help you out. Voting is open until Thursday 22nd October.

And thank you.

Back to the Grindstone


It's good to be back!

It’s that time again. As of today, I’m back in the lovely city of Brighton, and back to work at the University of Sussex.

This is my third and final year, so it actually counts. Meaning I have to really put the effort in, right up to the end. This is not going to be easy. Right now, I’ve had my first lecture of the year (Law of Evidence), and have near-bankrupted myself buying books for the year. But I feel energised and ready to learn.

It probably won’t last long. This same feeling has struck at the beginning of the previous two years. I start off all wide-eyed, ready to debate and learn and participate. It wears off after I end up mired in the endless reading lists, my vow that this year I’ll keep up with it receding into the distance behind me.

But still, I’m going to give it my best shot. This year the choice of subjects was my own, rather than the universities, and unlike most of my fellow students, I chose subjects I thought would be enjoyable. It’ll probably come back and bite me in the arse when I come to be looking for jobs, but at the moment I’m just revelling in the prospect of a year studying Law of Evidence, Family Law, and Law and Politics in the UK and US. And writing a dissertation on the Law of Treason.

The real panic will come in a few months, when I realise that I have no clue what I want to do when I leave university. But that’s a problem for later. For now, I’m enjoying my course, I’m enjoying my writing, and I’m really enjoying having been welcomed so warmly into the Labour Party. Life, at the moment, is looking up.