Desperate clients in Manchester are fighting to see a legal adviser after the closure of the last of the city’s law centres, a local advice worker said last week.
South Manchester Law Centre shut at the end of August after going into voluntary liquidation. Following the closure of centres at Wythenshawe and north Manchester – in addition to the closure of a Citizens Advice bureau in the south-east of the city – campaigners say many people now have nowhere left to go for legal advice.
Denise McDowell, director of the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, which has taken on some immigration cases, said public advice provision had been ‘decimated’ in the city.
She told a Justice Alliance meeting: ‘At 7.30am this morning we had 35 people queuing for immigration advice. People are arguing and fighting to get in the queue. It’s a completely unacceptable position for us to be in.’
Julie Bishop (pictured), director of the Law Centres Network, said the group is working to find a way to resurrect a centre in Manchester, as happened when the final Birmingham centre was forced to shut last year.
The south Manchester centre provided advice and representation in immigration, asylum and women’s rights, and collaborated with local charities such as the Big Issue.
Bishop said: ‘For over 40 years South Manchester Law Centre was a vital resource for disadvantaged people, offering them free and independent legal advice. It was based where it was needed most, in the heart of the district of Longsight, one of the most deprived areas in Manchester.’
Managers at South Manchester blamed the closure directly on legal aid cuts since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act removed public funding for huge areas of civil work, including welfare benefits, debt, immigration and most housing, in April 2013.
Since the act came in to force, 10 law centres have closed across the country, leaving 49 still working.