Manchester practitioners are taking it upon themselves to plug gaps in advice provision following the government’s cuts to legal aid.
The Greater Manchester Law Centre Steering Group is hoping to open a new law centre this year.
Barrister John Nicholson, chair of the group’s management committee, said Greater Manchester was previously served by nine law centres. ‘There are only two left – small ones in Bury and Rochdale, struggling heroically to survive,’ he said.
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 steering group is currently searching for premises. Nicholson said he hoped the centre ‘will be doing something even as early as mid-summer’.
The centre hopes to have at least two full-time solicitors. ‘What we would really like to see happen is all the lawyers in Greater Manchester give one per cent of their earnings to the law centre, or similar in pro bono activity,’ Nicholson added. ‘That’s a high ask.’
Public meetings will be held this month to gauge opinion on whether a community law centre is needed.
The law centre has registered with Companies House and applied for charitable status.
Meanwhile, the Tackling Discrimination in the East legal service, provided by Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, is trying to raise money through crowdfunding after support from the Big Lottery Fund ended last month.