Manchester practitioners have taken a step forward in their plans to plug gaps in advice provision created by cuts to legal aid.
The Greater Manchester Law Centre Steering Group told the Gazette that a new law centre will open in a purpose-built building in Princess Road, Moss Side, this summer.
The decision was made following two public meetings in which 60 people unanimously voted to create a community centre in the area.
Barrister John Nicholson, chair of the group’s management committee, said: ‘This is a huge development. Having premises is a lot of incentive for attracting solicitors who are willing to do pro bono work.’
Nicholson said the centre will provide advice on a ‘wide range’ of topics, but a final decision has not been made.
At present there are two law centres in Bury and Rochdale. Nicholson said Greater Manchester was previously served by nine law centres.
South Manchester Law Centre shut in August 2014 after going into voluntary liquidation. Managers blamed the closure directly on legal aid cuts after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act removed from scope huge areas of civil work, including welfare benefits, debt, immigration and most housing, in April 2013.
The new centre will be operated by the steering group. Nicholson said it is likely to be called the ‘Community Law Centre’.
He explained: ‘It is simply to let people know what [the centre] is ie it’s a community law centre. It will be under our organisation – who knows, we might have more outlets or links with other organisations.’
The group has enough funds to move into the new premises, but Nicholson said it will have to raise funds itself to keep the centre up and running, including, for instance, by asking solicitors, barristers and clerks across Greater Manchester to donate 1% of their earnings.
The group is hoping to have about half a dozen solicitors and caseworkers, which would cost around £300,000 a year. But in its first year, it will seek to raise £200,000.
'We haven't got any of that at the moment. Therefore, we're on a curve going upwards,' Nicholson said.
Solicitors interested in offering pro bono services should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.