The Greater Manchester Law Centre opened its doors to the public this weekend becoming the third new centre to join the network post-LASPO. ‘Legal aid has been cut and cut again,’ commented John Nicholson, the law centre’s chair. ‘Now – when people are facing vicious benefit sanctions, homelessness, escalating racism, cuts in health and education – they need legal advice like never before.’
As reported on LegalVoice last year, six years ago there were three law centres in Manchester (South Manchester, Wythenshawe and North Manchester). All had been forced to close their doors. Since the April 2013 legal aid cuts under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), 11 law centres have shut down.
The Law Centres Network welcomed the latest addition to the network. ‘With Greater Manchester Law Centre the city regains a precious asset which public funding cuts had taken away,’ commented Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, the network’s head of policy and profile. ‘This is the third Law Centre to join our national network since the cuts to civil legal aid. Its establishment is a testament to local initiative and tenacity, and to the value that people attach to equal justice for all.’
Well known local legal aid lawyer Robert Lizar unveiled the plaque and activist Dr Erinma Bell cut the ribbon. ‘You know how they say if there’s no legal aid there’s no access to justice?’ she said as she cut the ribbon as reported in the Salford Star “Well we’re cutting into that today. We will have legal aid and we will have access to justice. I’m going to cut into it because this is done by local people for local people. So no more ‘Nos’, it’s always going to be a ‘Yes’…”
The opening ceremony was attended by over 500 people including patrons Maxine Peake and Michael Mansfield QC. The human rights lawyer told the BBC that it was ‘very difficult to find anybody prepared to fight for this’. The government’s view was that people clould ‘deal with all this on the internet and telephone’, the silk said, but ‘actually the core problems need face-to-face interviews’. Maxine Peake – who played Martha Costello in the BBC drama Silk –said ‘access to free legal advice is as important as access to healthcare’.