At the start of July, we delivered our open letter to Andy Burnham. We invited him to follow up on discussions we had enjoyed earlier in the year, in which we had proposed a levy on corporate law firms to support free legal advice and representation for the people of Manchester. Since then, around 300 community members have put their name to the open letter, and we have experienced a flurry of discussion and support on social media. We are now engaged in constructive discussions with the Mayor’s office, and we are eager to see where this leads.
Our intention is to reinvigorate discussion around legal aid and funding for those in urgent need of free legal advice and representation. Our letter certainly has been making waves. Signatories include film director Ken Loach, Human Rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, local peace activist Dr Erinma Bell MBE, former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish Andrew Gwynne, lawyers and staff from supportive law firms and chambers, and members of other advice agencies across Greater Manchester. We also received a supportive email from Jonathan Reynolds MP, who wants to address the issue in a meeting with Andy Burnham and Caroline Lucas MP tweeted about the GM levy. Hours after publishing our letter online, we featured on the front page of the Solicitors’ Journal, shortly followed by coverage in the Law Society Gazette, and numerous messages of support and inquiry from other news outlets.
This momentum demonstrates a hunger for radical forward thinking. The Solicitors Journal infers that our intention is that “wealthy corporate firms should do their bit for the cuts-stricken advice sector”. In a sense, this is correct. We know that goodwill and generosity exist in the legal sector, as we frequently receive messages, gestures of support, and offers of pro-bono lawyers from firms and chambers. These relationships are invaluable to us. What we are proposing with this levy is a way to convert this goodwill to practical, sustainable, financial support.
Does this mean that we have abandoned our calls for restoration of legal aid? Absolutely not. Access to justice is as fundamental as access to healthcare or education. We continue to demand the restoration of publicly funded legal services. This levy forms part of our wider campaign to meet the advice and representation needs of our community and to put pressure on the government to address the barriers to justice created by legal aid cuts.
We know that to survive, we need to be creative. Our supporters are helping to get our voice heard and to promote viable, innovative means of fighting tor free access to justice. To these supporters we express our gratitude, and it is with hope and determination that we promise to provide updates on this campaign.
// You can still sign our open letter here //