On Thursday, 11th April, we launched our manifesto at a public event. The event was packed. 150 people were in attendance: students, advisers, lawyers and community groups, old and new friends.
The full manifesto can now be downloaded here.
Norma Turner, one of GMLC’s founders, chaired the event and speakers included GMLC Patron and human rights lawyer Robert Lizar and GMLC trustee Sukhdeep Singh. Our housing solicitor, Kathy Cosgrove, spoke alongside Stacie Martindale, who we have been represented in a homeless shelter case (read about the case here and here).
The response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
“We need community law centres to ensure people’s legal rights.”
“We demand the full restoration of legal aid and a new generation of social welfare lawyers, the legal right to a secure home for all and an end to the hostile environment inflicted on benefit claimants and migrants”.
Our call was to action was to “Join the fight by fighting together”: Community groups and individuals gathered after the event to make contact, plan and exchange ideas.
Over the coming month we will work hard with this Manifesto, flush out the main themes in articles on our website and engage further with the community, organisations and politicians.
Our Manifesto is a tool for change.
Please read below more about Manifesto launch:
John Nicholson, our chair, said:
“This manifesto launch is about what we’re fighting for, how we do it and how people can join us.”
“We have a vision for a fairer society, and we have a part to play. While parliament continues to dither and delay in “debating” exit from the EU, people in local communities are suffering […] We need action to tackle these problems now. People should not have to rely on charity and foodbanks. People need legal rights and they need properly funded community law centres working with them to demand their rights are fulfilled.”
Robert Lizar addressed not only the decimation of legal aid but how assistance is not the same as agency:
“The unrealised potential of legal advice work is not that it can remedy the structural causes of poverty and bad housing, but it has the capacity to lay them bare.”
Richard Burgon MP, Shadow Justice Minister, was due to attend and speak but was prevented at the last minute by the parliamentary commitments related to the EU proceedings. He sent his own message of support: “I am working closely with the Law Centres Network to produce a detailed plan of how the next Labour Government will boost existing Law Centres and create more Law Centres in our communities. … Your Law Centre Manifesto will no doubt play a central role in shaping provision across this country.”
Richard Burgon Written Statement to GMLC Manifesto Launch, 11 April 2019:
Unfortunately, Brexit business means that I can no longer attend tonight’s Law Centre Manifesto event.
That is deeply disappointing for me as strengthening Law Centres will be one of my priorities as Secretary of State for Justice in a future Labour government.
Our hard-won rights aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if people can’t enforce them.
As Secretary of State for Justice I want to empower hard hit communities – those most affected by Conservative cuts – to be able to defend their rights and fight back against unjust legal decisions.
That’s why a Labour government will usher in a Golden Era of Law Centres. To empower the single parent to fight back against the ‘lousy landlord’; to empower the worker to fight back against the bullying boss; to empower the migrant to fight back against the immoral and unjustifiable decision of the Home Office; and to empower the disabled person to fight back against a cruel DWP ruling.
Greater Manchester Law Centre is one of the inspirations behind this policy commitment.
And what a story the founding of your law centre is. An inspiring coming together of legal aid lawyers, trade unionists, community advice organisations and volunteers to “fight together for free access to justice” on this basis of being, as you say, “run by the community, for the community.”
As you may know, I am working closely with the Law Centres Network to produce a detailed plan of how the next Labour Government will boost existing Law Centres and create more Law Centres in our communities.
I look forward to discussing this blueprint with GMLC and with Law Centres right across the country later this year, so that we are ready to take immediate action when the next Labour government comes to power.
Your Law Centre Manifesto will no doubt play a central role in shaping provision across this country.
One of the first initiatives announced when Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Leader was the Bach Commission into Access to Justice. That report noted: “The squeeze in public funding has led to advice agencies and law centres closing and legal aid lawyers leaving the profession.”
A future Labour Government will put an end to that dreadful situation.
A Labour government will not only mean more staff for existing law centres but setting up new law centres.
Many legal problems spiral into costly social problems. That’s why we want to see Law Centres reaching out into the heart of their communities – for example, being based in doctor’s surgeries or even in foodbanks (until of course we abolish the root causes for the necessity of the existence of food banks).
A Labour Government will also boost the number of lawyers being trained up in Law Centres so that we recruit the next generation of socially orientated lawyers who provide so much practical assistance to people facing tough times through no fault of their own.
Law Centres – like the Labour Party – are all about enabling working class communities in all their diversity to fight back.
Working with yourselves and others, a new era for law centres will be an important part of the legacy of the next Labour Government in the Ministry of Justice.
We campaign for the restoration of legal aid, as well as social and policy issues. “We challenge the injustices which bring people to us in the first place”, said Kathy (photo left). One of the demands is that everyone has the right to a secure home. Stacie Martindale (photo right) movingly talked about the squat in Eccles, which they named “Saving People Homeless Project”, where she and other homeless people find shelter, and help each other rebulding a life for themselves after dehumanising experience living on the streets in Greater Manchester.
Sukhdeep Singh, one of our trustees, spoke about GMLC’s anti-racist principles: “When the Windrush scandal was revealed, people from the local community were able to come to the law centre for information, advice and support … Migrants, like benefit claimants, have been targeted and stigmatised, and its time for a complete change of government policy.” He gave numerous examples, which touched the audience deeply. We are making a video of the event available soon, so you can listen to his contribution.
Maxine Peake, GMLC Patron, likewise had hoped to speak to the meeting, but she is currently preparing for the theatre in London and sent the following message:
“Just to say I am so sorry not to be with you today. But I want to wish you all well with the magnificent manifesto launch. I am honoured to be connected to the law centre. It’s tremendous place full of the best of humanity.”
The full manifesto can be downloaded here.
A big thank you
Thank you to:
- all the speakers and messages of support
- Thompsons Solicitors for offering their offices for the launch
- Alison Law for printing our Manifesto
- Alex Dunedin from the Ragged University for filming the event
- our volunteer case worker Chris Wallace for taking excellent pictures
- and above all our wonderful volunteers who helped make the event run smoothly and made all guests feel welcome
We are a law centre run by the community, for the community. This means we need your support. If you have a fundraising idea, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consider making an individual donation by clicking here.