As uncertainty hangs over details of the government's long-awaited review of controversial legal aid reforms, the legal profession is refusing to sit idly by waiting for the findings to be published.
The Law Society has developed an online form that will enable solicitors and members of the public to quickly lobby their MPs to reinstate state funding for early legal advice, particularly in family and housing law.
Richard Miller, the Society’s head of justice, said: ‘There is increasing evidence in the public domain that the apparent financial savings being made by government in the justice system are in fact leading to greater expenditure. They are a false economy.
‘With just over five months to go until the government are due to publish their long-awaited post-legislative review of LASPO, now is the time for people to lobby their MP.’
Meanwhile practitioners are working on setting up law centres in Suffolk and Bolton.
Suffolk was identified by Chancery Lane as one of three areas that has no legal aid housing provider. The Suffolk Law Centre steering group has raised nearly £38,000 of a £40,000 target to begin operating in April. The centre will share premises with Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, a charity which aims to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality.
Dozens of people, including barrister Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, and Denise McDowell, director of the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, attended a public meeting to support a new centre in Bolton.
McDowell told the Gazette that there were a lot of people ‘angry at what has happened over the last few years – sanctions, universal credit, cuts to legal aid and loss of services – and who said they are willing to get involved’.
Barrister John Nicholson, chair of Greater Manchester Law Centre, which opened in 2016, said a Bolton centre depends on the degree of support, the number of volunteers willing to assist, and the amount of funds that can be raised.
Nicholson said: ‘We are doing what we can. Things are getting harsher for many people and until we can end the vicious benefit sanctions regime and win the argument for funding a new generation of social welfare lawyers, we will go on struggling as hard as we can. We welcome the initiative in Bolton and let’s see what happens.’
Elsewhere, law students at Manchester Metropolitan University will offer pro bono advice and assistance to members of the public through a new partnership with the Pro Bono Community Charity and Greater Manchester Law Centre.
Ngaryan Li, supervising solicitor at Greater Manchester Law Centre, said: 'This unique programme gives students an introduction to advice work in law centres outside of the university curriculum with an emphasis on interpersonal and practical skills that they may otherwise not have the opportunity to develop.'