Community Legal Services seeking more funding via student fee increase of $1.25

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A motion to increase student fees by $1.25 to support Community Legal Services will be brought before the University Students’ Council tonight.

Community Legal Services currently receives $3.50 in student fees to provide free legal assistance to students and those who can’t afford it.

“Law students under the supervision of lawyers provide criminal, landlord-and-tenant, small-claims and power-of-attorney legal assistance to students and [low-income] members of the community,” said Douglas Ferguson, director of CLS, adding CLS takes cases to court when necessary.

Community Legal Services also offers seminars for the community, publishes articles and e-mails Western students on issues of concern, Ferguson said.

Ferguson emphasized the increase’s affordability.

“It’s $1.25 or about the cost of one small Tim Hortons coffee per year,” he said.

University Students’ Council President Fab Dolan said he is hesitant to support any increases in student fees.

“There would have to be real evidence of an increase in services for Western students to support the increase,” Dolan said.

Like similar programs at other Ontario universities, CLS is funded through a combination of student fees and support from Legal Aid Ontario, Ferguson said.

“If we don’t receive the increase [in USC funding] we must cut our services in landlord and tenant and criminal cases,” Ferguson said.

“Services are at a much higher demand but funds from the USC have remained the same,” Ferguson said. “The last increase in student fees was 16 years ago in 1991.”

Over the past five years, CLS’ clientele has risen from 15 per cent students to 38 per cent students, and immigration services exclusively for Western students were recently added. Last year, 330 Western students used the services and many others benefited from the articles, Ferguson said.

One hundred and fifty to 200 law students volunteer for the program each year.

“Community Legal Services is the only organization where you can apply what you’re learning in the classroom to the courtroom,” said Mark Coleman, second-year law student and CLS supervisor.

“It allows you to take theoretical concepts and apply them practically to your files that you carry at the clinic,” Coleman said.

“The benefit of the program is on both sides,” Ferguson said. “Students who take part get to see how practising law works and increase their understanding from the classroom. Students and low-income people receive free legal council.”

Community Legal Services is located in Room 120 of the Faculty of Law building. For more information call 519-661-3352.

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