Traveller Court Supports Initiative

 

The Traveller Court Supports Initiative: Co-designed & Community Based Supports for Traveller Litigants in the District Court.

Pink and Blue TCSI logo depicting a scales with horse shoes

About the TCSI:

The Traveller Court Support Initiative is a novel partnership between Dr Samantha Morgan-Williams, Travellers of North Cork and the Court Service, which will develop a training programme and network of Traveller ‘court-support workers’ to provide community-engaged, and culturally appropriate peer-led District court accompaniment supports for Traveller victims of discrimination.

Informed by TEJP (2022-2023 research findings) the TCSI project will be codesigned and advanced in partnership with TEJP UCC Traveller organisation partners in Cork, adopting a ‘nothing about us without us’ approach empowering and building legal-education and rights-advocacy capacity.

In the initial stage of the TCSI (August-December 2023) the TCSI was supported by a UNIC ERSeedfund Grant (€5000). Over a four month period (August-December) the six Traveller women visited the court and the School of Law for sessions. They took an 8 week introduction to the legal system course delivered by Dr Morgan-Williams, before completing visitations and sessions at the Washington St Courthouse, focused on capacity building, legal policy and research awareness and development of understanding of the daily processes of the District Court. 

During this training, TCSI staff learnt about the fundamentals of the Irish legal system, including the seperation of powers, sources of law, hierarchy of law, doctrine of precedent and the court system and courts processes.

In completing their training and becoming familiar with the court and its processes, TCSI workers are able to support and demystifying the courts for Traveller litigants who may experience fear or anxiety about attending court. Once training is complete the five TCSI workers will be in a position to act as an important support and advocacy bridge between Traveller litigants and their legal representation. 

Context and Need:

Data collected by the TEJP in 2022 identified significant barriers to justice for Travellers, finding that the adversarial nature of the District Court was a barrier to justice for vulnerable groups such as Travellers (TEJP, 2022). Travellers experience 22 times more discrimination in accessing goods and services (ESRI, 2017) than white settled Irish and remain Ireland’s most marginalised group. Yet. despite proliferating levels of racism and discrimination (FRA, 2021) legal avenues for address remain inaccessible for many owing to current barriers within the equality adjudication system (TEJP, 2022). When engaging with legal-institutions Traveller litigants experience fear, institutional mistrust and revisiting of intergenerational trauma arising from societal marginalisation and over-policing of the Traveller community (ITAJ, 2022). The impact of this, is that many Travellers are fearful of taking a case to challenge discrimination, feeling alienated by the process (TEJP, 2022). Although victims of crime and their families can avail of a number of appropriate court supports (ITAJ, 2022; VSAC) there are no equivalent supports for minority discrimination victims within the Irish civil system.

TEJP’s mapping of Traveller experiences (TEJP, 2022) with Traveller groups in Cork, recognised the inability of existing research to capture the emotional and memorial elements of adversarial court appearances for Travellers. Those interviewed highlighting the need for peer-led court accompaniment supports which recognise the importance of understanding access to justice for marginalised groups, while providing solutions to ongoing barriers to justice which are community-based and co-designed.
TCSI responds to this through development of a co-designed training programme and establishment of a network of Traveller ‘court-support workers’ to provide community-engaged, and culturally appropriate peer-led court accompaniment supports for Traveller litigants in the District Court.

Project Approach:

The TCSI as developed by PI Dr Samantha Morgan-Williams, responds to these barriers through development of a co-designed training programme and establishment of a network of Traveller ‘court-support workers’ to provide community-engaged, and culturally appropriate peer-led court accompaniment supports for Traveller litigants in the District Court.  This feeds into the need for understanding of vulnerable court-user experience to adequately inform reform of domestic equality adjudication bodies, enhanced judicial training and actions ensuring access to justice for most vulnerable, while also providing vital resources needed to encourage increased discrimination litigation against those who discriminate against the Traveller Community

The TCSI is the first such programme in Ireland to be codesigned and advanced in partnership with Traveller organisation partners in Cork, the Court Service and the School of Law, UCC. In providing and training culturally-appropriate court support workers, the TCSI seeks to respond to the barriers to justice experienced by Traveller litigants within the civil system.

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