Two years after the then lord chancellor, Michael Gove, floated the idea of imposing a financial levy on City lawyers, a law centre has asked its regional leader to introduce a levy for corporate law firms to help fund pro bono advice.
In a letter to Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham this week, Greater Manchester Law Centre reminds Burnham that his manifesto declares that Greater Manchester will be a beacon of social justice to the country, where no one is left behind.
The centre says: 'To achieve this, access to justice is as essential as access to healthcare and education. We share your belief that radical forward thinking is needed to build a new future for Greater Manchester, and we invite you to put this into practice to support vital legal services.'
Burnham visited the centre in March. The letter says the meeting was 'incredibly positive. Together we proposed a levy, whereby Manchester's corporate law firms will financially contribute to the pro bono and legal advice sector. We are now asking you to make this happen'.
The centre opened the doors to its purpose-built building in Princess Road, Moss Side, last summer. The centre has set up a Lawyer Fund Generation Scheme, asking solicitors to donate 0.5% of their earnings to fund services.
Barrister John Nicholson, law centre chair, told the Gazette the centre 'has some individuals giving us a growing number of standing orders' while others donate their time through sessional solicitor support in areas such as employment, community care and mental health.
The letter to Burnham state that the centre is making great strides to meet the advice and representation needs of those who need it most but the centre 'needs more than words and encouragement'.
It concludes: 'This is Manchester, and we do things differently here. Let's lead the way and try something new, and implement the idea we dreamed up together. To survive, we need to be creative. Let's fund our free face-to-face, high-quality legal advice and professional legal representation by imposing a levy on commercial law firms.'
Meanwhile the charity Legal Education Foundation is funding a training contract at the law centre through its Justice First Fellowship Scheme. Nicholson said the centre was very pleased to be able to offer this 'and start to develop our own future generation of social welfare lawyers'.
The centre is also in discussions with supporters in Bolton, one of 10 districts that make up Greater Manchester, who are considering set up a law centre.