This is the third in a series of snapshots from our Annual Report, which was presented at our AGM 28th September 2017.
In this section on Campaigning and Fundraising, we describe why and how we campaign for free access to justice.
Why do we campaign?
From the beginning, we have been more than a Law Centre. We are a campaign for access to justice. We demand free legal advice and representation for all who need it, and we challenge unjust legislation and policy. In practice, this means ensuring our elected representatives keep Legal Aid on the political agenda. It means calling on the rest of the legal sector to support us in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. It means building a sustainable volunteer base, because we are run by and for our community. It means producing hard-hitting commentary on topical issues. It means working with similar organisations to maximise our shared impact. It means creating innovative ways of funding our survival. We are fighting, together, for free access to justice, and this requires a multitude of tactics.
#GE17 and a levy for free access to justice
The 2017 General Election was a major campaigning opportunity. We published our analysis of party manifestos, and our survey of Greater Manchester election candidates. We aimed firstly to help our supporters to make an informed decision in choosing a candidate committed to an effective welfare and justice system. Secondly, by sending our questions to prospective elected representatives, we were ensuring that access to justice remained on their agenda, alongside other vital rights such as access to healthcare and education. We received instant responses online, including a letter of support from Michael Mansfeld QC.
“ A grass roots campaign of the kind so effectively mounted by the new reinvigorated GMLC is urgently required. Huge community base of overwhelming support, combined with actively challenging all political candidates about social justice, is the agenda we should all endorse.” – Michael Mansfield QC
Our second major campaign is for a levy on corporate law firms, whereby they would pay into a fund for free legal advice and representation in Greater Manchester. We initially discussed the idea with Andy Burnham when he visited our premises in March 2017. By the end of July, we had delivered an open letter to our Mayor, signed by over 300 community members and high-profile supporters. We caused a stir, as articles sprung up in the Law Society Gazette and on the front page of the Solicitors Journal. Conversations with the Mayoral office are constructive and ongoing. We are pleased to have reinvigorated discussions on funding for legal services by garnering media attention, addressing our elected representatives, and engaging the corporate legal sector. Our impact is testament to our strong community base and the goodwill shown by supportive law firms.
We are our volunteers, and our volunteers are making an impact. Recruiting and engaging volunteers requires impeccable organisation and communication. We are continually working on our records, structures and volunteer schemes in order to campaign effectively. Our volunteers made a tangible political impact this year. Our Editorial and Research Group was launched in June, and our campaign volunteers set about writing articles on topical legal issues. We paired students with professionals to make the most of our diverse volunteer base. These teams published sensitive and analytical pieces on the legal issues surrounding the Grenfell fire, on the causes of homelessness, and on the trials of those navigating the benefits system. These articles have been picked up by external news sources such as the Legal Voice, and widely shared on social media. We will continue to provide meaningful commentary on topical issues, so that we can use our platform to bring important legal questions to the fore.
Greater Manchester is home to many inspiring and defiant organisations who campaign on issues such as homelessness, poverty, minority rights and social welfare. The support of groups such as Greater Manchester Poverty Action, The Mustard Tree and Young Legal Aid Lawyers is invaluable because we know that our struggles are interconnected, and together, our voice is stronger. We have therefore been busy building our network and sharing our platform. We have been working closely with Trades Unions to support their campaigns and recruitment, and to advertise our services to their members. It was therefore an honour to be a part of the TUC’s May Day Festival and demonstration. To remain visible in our wider community, we have contributed to a variety of outreach events such as Manchester Metropolitan University’s Community Learning Festival and Alexandra Park’s Caribbean Carnival. We are also building bridges across the whole of Greater Manchester, by working with local activists to explore establishing a GMLC branch in Bolton, and supporting the work of similar advice organisations such as the Stockport Solidarity Drop-In.
We demand the restoration of Legal Aid and the sustainable provision of legal advice and representation at a national level. In the meantime, we refuse to allow budget cuts to deprive our community of vital services. This means being creative to fund our existence. Fundraising events such as quiz and poetry nights allow our supporters to come together. Individual members support us with standing orders and donations. We now have an effective online donations system, facilitating payment at the click of a button. As a Law Centre run by the community, for the community, we need your support.
Building the foundation for legal campaigning
Our campaign is multi-faceted. At this AGM, we declare our goal of fighting together to change Government welfare reform policies. We have never aspired merely to plug the gaps left by Government funding cuts, which is why we demand the restoration of Legal Aid. We are now also challenging injustices in the legislation and welfare policy itself. Our volunteers on the frontline of our services see the hardship faced by the vulnerable in our community, and we campaign so that we can use this experience to enact real change.