A Law Centre for Greater Manchester
Fighting together for free access to justice
Going Against the Grain
Legal aid has been cut and cut again.
The Government prevents access to justice and does so most effectively by removing the advice agencies that can deliver access to those most in need. Both national and local government have sought to rely on internet or telephone to meet the advice needs of people in poverty and vulnerability; when advisers know full well that complex welfare rights and benefits, and other advice issues, demand walk-in, face-to-face advice in person, and professional legal representation.
The disincentive to younger people becoming social welfare lawyers has been exacerbated by overwhelming student debt – with fewer and fewer job opportunities even for those who might want to work in legal aid.
We say this cannot go on.
Since South Manchester Law Centre was set up back in 1975, there have been nine law centres, across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs. The closure of SMLC in 2014, after four years of fighting cuts and contract reorganisations, left just two, Bury and Rochdale. Inner city Salford, Manchester and Old Trafford has NO law centre. It is effectively a “law centre free zone”.
So, in late 2014 a group of legal aid lawyers, trade unionists and community advice organisations came together to say that this could not go on. We declared our aim of starting a community law centre for Greater Manchester. This was to enable the people of Greater Manchester to campaign for change as well as to start to provide access to free and independent legal advice and representation for people who could not otherwise afford it.
And we secured shop front, community-based premises on Princess Road, Moss Side, in Manchester.
Volunteers are the backbone of the law centre. We will only sustain it through individual and community efforts of people doing it for ourselves. That’s our “PFI” – paid for itself!
It’s a different way of working. It’s a different way of getting funding (additional to grants). Its different people to work with – geographically, locally and cross-county, in different sectors, voluntary and statutory, health and local government, community and trade union, legal and university, faith and corporate.
But we are not just relying on the free labour of volunteer students and lawyers, especially if this is masking the severity of cuts and closures.
We are a campaign for the restoration of legal aid, and we want to encourage the government and opposition and all those who are in a position of power, to change their policy for the better.
All this is because we do not just want to provide services (though that is necessary) as much as we want to convince others of their responsibilities too. We do not want to be an isolated organisation, competing with others for the crumbs of statutory sector funding, we want to work with others to campaign for more for all of us.
Former Court of Appeal Judge, Sir Henry Brooke, said in 2015:
It would be marvellous if you can establish a community law centre in Moss Side. The very best of luck to all of you. It is badly needed.”