Legal aid news: July 2019

Welcome to our update of the latest legal aid and access to justice news from July 2019.

Celebrating 70 years of legal aid: On 30 July 1949  the Legal Aid and Advice Act received royal assent, creating the legal aid scheme. The 30 July 2019 therefore saw the 70th anniversary of this important step in the campaign for access to justice. In order to celebrate and highlight the significance of this milestone, the Justice Alliance organised a large gathering outside the Ministry of Justice.

This followed the launch event of Legal Action Group’s Legal Aid Matters pamphlet on 18 July. The pamphlet tells the story of 70 legal aid cases which have changed or contributed to the understanding of the law, as written by notable figures from the law, academia, clients and campaigners. The foreword is written by Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court. As part of the anniversary celebrations, the booklet showcases the history and impact of legal aid. More information about the Legal Aid Matters publication can be found here.

At the launch event for the Legal Aid Matters publication on 18 July, Richard Burgon MP, the shadow justice secretary, pledged that a labour government would restore ‘all of early legal help’ , citing the importance of The Bach Commission Report on access to justice. Guest speakers at the event also included Andy Slaughter MP and the Secret Barrister (whose speech was read by Sue James, the Director of Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre. More information about the event can be found here.

LALY Awards: At the 17th Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards held this month. Former co-Chairs of YLAL, Rachel Francis and Oliver Carter, were honoured with a Special Award to recognise ‘wholly exceptional people’ who are ‘true champions of access to justice’.

The awards were presented by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, renowned human rights barrister and Labour peer. Categories for the LALY awards also included ‘Outstanding achievement’, which was awarded to Paul Bowen QC who led the successful 2018 judicial review against the Ministry of Justice which resulted in the government agreeing to reinstate legal aid for separated and unaccompanied children in all non-asylum immigration cases. Other categories included  ‘Legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency’, ‘Legal aid newcomer’ and ‘Legal aid barrister’ amongst others, and the full list of awards and the winners can be viewed here.

Sir Henry Brooke essay prize 2019: The first annual Sir Henry Brooke Essay Prize was awarded at our London meeting on 23 July. The prize honours the legacy of Sir Henry Brooke, a former Court of Appeal judge who became a tireless campaigner on issues including access to justice during his retirement.

His post-judicial renown owed much to his enthusiastic adoption of digital technology; many came to know of him through his blog and tweets. He drafted significant sections of the Bach Commission’s final report on access to justice, and also acted as patron to a number of justice organisations including the Public Law Project, Harrow Law Centre and Prisoners Abroad.

The 2019 essay questions was “Technology has the capacity to enhance, empower and automate, but it also has the potential to exclude vulnerable members of society" – Sir Henry Brooke, September 2017. Discuss, with examples, how technology can be used to advance access to justice in the UK.

We are pleased to announce the following winners of this year’s Sir Henry Brooke essay prize:

·1st prize (£100) - Allan Shepherd: Available here.

·2nd prize (£50) - Sam March: Available here.

·Runner-up (£25 book token) - Henrietta Boyle: Available here.

·Runner-up (£25 book token) - Mandy Groves: Available here.

#TakeYourMPToWork campaign: The campaign, led by YLAL and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, arranges for Members of Parliament to visit law centres and legal advice clinics to see first-hand why comprehensive early legal advice is so vital.

On 15 July 2019 YLAL and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid launched the campaign in parliament, joined by Members of Parliament and press representatives. The event was sponsored by Hogan Lovells and LLST. You can find out more about the launch event here.

So far 12 MPs have taken part in the campaign and more than 60 have signed up to visit a legal aid provider in their constituency. The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, visited Southwark Law Centre as part of the campaign and stated that ‘legal aid lawyers and Law Centres do amazing work defending people's basic rights. I'm delighted to back the call by YLAL and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid for the restoration of early legal advice’. You can read more about the campaign and how to contact your MP to encourage them to visit the legal aid frontline on our website.

Loss of Lambeth Law Centre: Having served south London for almost 40 years, Lambeth Law Centre announced its closure this month. Trustees from the Law Centre’s Board released a statement on the website saying that the centre was to be closed with immediate effect. The statement cited financial pressures as a result of ‘legal aid cuts and increased operating costs’ for the closure of the centre.

The Public Interest Law (PILP) Centre, which was hosted by the Lambeth Law Centre, released a statement saying that work to finalise a move to a new host organisation is being finalised.  Fortunately, PILC have now moved to Camden Law Centre.

The Guardian recently reported that government figures show that half of all law centres and not-for-profit legal advice centres in England and Wales have been closed in the past six years. These figures were obtained through parliamentary questions asked by shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon. The figures highlighted that in 2013/14 there was free legal service provision or Law Centres in 94 local areas, but by 2019/20 this had fallen to only 47, due to cuts in legal aid and local authority funding.  

YLAL is extremely grateful to volunteer Sophie Lansdowne for preparing this news update.