An initiative that aims to deploy law student volunteers in the provision of practical support to Scottish communities looking to gain access to land has been launched.
The Scottish University Land Unit (SULU) involves the Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS) and its Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) partnering with law student volunteers. DTAS and COSS will direct communities who are unable to unlock or afford existing advice and assistance channels towards these student volunteers, who will then be able to deploy their skill and enthusiasm in a tangible way, and in turn the students themselves will be able to learn about the challenges communities face on the ground.
For a trial period, volunteering opportunities will be restricted to law students based in Aberdeen, although communities from furth of Aberdeen can still benefit from SULU’s services.
Communities that are seeking to make use of the rights of acquisition that exist in Scottish land reform and community empowerment legislation have been able to call on DTAS for support since it launched some years ago, but now DTAS will in turn be able to call on law students to provide additional and targeted information about the legal and other challenges communities might face.
It is envisaged that communities will liaise with DTAS/COSS in the way they might have anyway, then at appropriate occasions DTAS/COSS advisers that are looking for an explanation of what the law says can be referred by DTAS/COSS to SULU students.
Those students will then tackle suitable questions that are addressed to them (perhaps questions about incorporation options for communities at an early stage, outlining certain aspects of a land transaction, or offering views on specific queries about a site). The process for this is detailed in a “Heads of Terms” document on the DTAS website.
The logic behind SULU is a perceived lack of support or guidance for some local projects, which has been noted by academic commentators. This existing lack of support also serves to clarify that SULU is not designed to take existing work away from practising solicitors. Rather, it aims to support communities who are not instructing solicitors at present. Furthermore, SULU students will not be expected to (for example) report on a title to land, or determine the existence or scope of a servitude right of access, for which professional advice would be more appropriate.
In the trial period, student volunteers will be supervised by Malcolm Combe, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Aberdeen.
Students wishing to register an interest in volunteering should email Pippa Robertson: her details, and details of the wider scheme, can be found on the DTAS website here.
A more detailed blog post on the initiative can be found on Malcolm Combe’s blog here.