Legal aid cuts and the closure of charitable legal services have prompted a major learning disability charity to set up its first legal panel of firms willing to contribute expertise pro bono. 

Mencap’s panel, called ‘Rights Here, Rights Now’, currently comprises 40 solicitors from law firms Shearman & Sterling, White & Case, Baker & McKenzie and Ashurst.

Operating on a ‘triage’ model, cases coming through Mencap’s helplines will be assessed by the charity’s internal teams and, where necessary, referred to the panel. Panel members will review the individual’s case, outlining potential available legal tools.

The charity will then present the guidance to the individual and, where necessary, support them to find legal representation.

The charity said widespread cuts to legal aid and the closure of charitable legal services had a significant impact on the number of people with a learning disability and their families accessing quality legal advice and support.

Mencap chief executive Jan Tregelles told the Gazette the panel members would be able to provide the ‘critical thinking’ the charity was unable to offer internally. ‘We do not have the time to read suitcases of decisions,’ she said.

Panel members have pledged to donate four hours a month.

Commenting on efforts to secure firms' help, Tregelles said: ‘I begged firms. I met a number of firms at various events. I almost stalked them.’ Mencap has also set up a five-strong supervisory panel, which includes former Eversheds chair Alan Jenkins.

Looking ahead, Tregelles said the charity ‘do not want to run before we can walk’, but added that the panel’s coverage will eventually roll out across the charity’s 500 local groups.