Law: POW packs a big punch: Sharon Wallach on an unusual way to get practical help

An organisation set up by ex- offenders for ex-offenders has widened its scope to offer practical help to anyone who may be subject to 'undue process of law', in the words of its chairman, Godfrey Vos.

Mr Vos, a former inmate of Ford prison, established POW Services Ltd - formerly Prisoners' Opportunities to Work, now People's Opportunities to Work - two years ago. Last January, POW became a benevolent company limited by guarantee.

'We operate through libraries and prison probation offices,' Mr Vos says. 'If we advertised further, we couldn't take on any more work.' POW is currently dealing with 150 matters such as DSS claims and some 90 legal problems. Its legal services department provides work for a dozen people, including 'Charles', the legal services director.

Charles, a former solicitor who was struck off and served seven months of a 21-month jail sentence, is the only salaried member of the department. The others are either volunteers or involved in employment action schemes, which pay them a small amount each week.

Working for POW is excellent experience, Charles says: many former volunteers have found work, pupillages or articles as a direct result of that grounding.

Staff changes, therefore, are frequent. The department currently includes a former diplomat, an unemployed commercial solicitor, a pupil barrister in his fifties, and a young man hoping that his experience here will serve as a mini-pupillage. An Australian solicitor, visiting the UK with her husband, volunteers her services four days a week. One member of staff has completed his Law Society finals and is hunting for articles; another is a barrister who had a tenancy lined up but was let down.

Charles explains that the department is run as a solicitors' practice, but adds: 'We do co-operate with solicitors. We are not in opposition or competition, but we fill a gap.' That gap largely relates to legal aid. 'After the trial at first instance is finished, the legal aid certificate covers advice on appeal, and that's all. Once you are in a prison cell, no one is interested in you.' POW's staff will, for instance, draft grounds of appeal. 'We can also recommend two or three sets of chambers who do pro bono work, and there are a similar number of solicitors' firms that support us,' Charles says.

POW members tends to be white-collar. 'The old lag, the petty criminal, tends to get overwhelmed with help. The middle-class wife whose husband is imprisoned has no help; she doesn't even know where to go.' Members, therefore, tend to fall into the gap of legal aid eligibility, their numbers swelled by recent cuts. Charles cites a typical case dealt with by his department: a litigant bringing a suit of breach of contract against an employer. If the client can pay, POW charges a very reasonable pounds 35 an hour for its help. It has, Charles says, had a number of successes where settlement has been reached. Other typical cases include bankruptcies, actions for possession - anything, Charles says, in which people are put under pressure by the civil or criminal system.

Charles's background is in general commercial work. In his days as a practising solicitor, he was a partner in a medium-sized firm, then worked in sole practice. Other members of his department bring different areas of expertise. But, he says, they do not embark on anything they do not know. 'What we're good at, because we have the time, is research. We have a large library here. Some books are mine, others have been donated by law firms.'

Anyone can join POW for a pounds 15 annual fee (waived for those in prison). The company neither seeks nor obtains donations, says Mr Vos: government funding was turned down 'because we thought it would prejudice our operation'.

Because of its status as a benevolent organisation governed by the Companies Act, POW cannot make profits. 'We run at a surplus, which we use to provide practical help to people.' The surplus, Mr Vos says, is generated by 'the expertise of the directors'. This includes managing as a business centre the building that houses POW, which was acquired on good terms as a result of the recession.

POW has some notable patrons, including Lord Patrick Spens, the Earl of Longford, and the Labour MP Austin Mitchell. But Mr Vos is proudest of the company's record: of 600 people helped, he knows of only three who have re-offended.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Test Analyst

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

Mechanical Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: MECHANICAL D...

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried