For Law tutors - 1 in 3 law centres are to fall victim to public spending cuts

How many students will appreciate the way in which such non-profit organisations such as law centres are at risk?

It is sometimes difficult to comprehend what poverty and deprivation is like unless you have been touched by it.  At a time when we hear more and more about public spending cuts and closures of one kind or another one would think we know about the worth or value of alternative sources of legal help and advice – other than high street firms of solicitors who generally expect to be paid for their services.  The reality is that many face closure – possibly as many as 1 in 3 of the 56 Law Centres face closure.

We have probably all heard something about the proposed legal aid cuts thanks to some very vocal and effective campaigns such as the one currently being advanced by Sound Off for Justice.  However, how many students will appreciate the way in which such non-profit organisations such as law centres are at risk?

Thanks to The Independent’s Deputy Political Editor, Nigel Morris’s article we are reminded of how legal aid and law centres are linked.

Students could be asked to consider what it might be like to be unable to obtain assistance with family breakdown, medical negligence, immigration, debt and welfare benefit.  Some students may be able to talk about their own experiences or those of friends and family.

We are reminded that we are faced with the prospect of £350m cuts in legal aid expenditure in the above areas and that there is, in any event, to be a reduction in legal aid rates by 10% later this year.

Apparently law centres obtain help in the form of receiving half their income from legal aid, but the problem is that it accounts for at least 60% of the receipts in the case of the 18 centres in danger, with the result that they are very much dependent upon this money for their existence.  The fact that some 40% comes from local authorities is cold comfort as many local councils are themselves under pressure to make cuts and savings.

Julie Bishop of the Law Centres Federation, points out that the number of cases handled by the law centres each year would drop from 120,000 to 40,000.  She is reported as saying:  'Cutting off these services to clients who come to us when their lives are in a mess means these problems will just fester and become even more costly for the Government.  It's a completely false saving.'

Sound Off for Justice describes the move as a 'vicious attack on the most vulnerable in our society.'

A Ministry of justice spokesman acknowledged the work of law centres but added 'At more than £2bn each year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world which we cannot continue to afford.'


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