I have talked before about the legal advice waste land following the massive cuts to Legal Aid which were introduced in April this year.
Since then we have seen the closure of Birmingham Law Centre which provided essential legal help for those in greatest need. And they are not alone.
An article in the Guardian this week makes bleak reading.
Other centres are making cuts or having to turn clients away. Others are left with no choice but to introduce charges to clients who are often on subsistence levels of income.
It is hard to imagine a more demoralising situation. Most lawyers and advice workers, who go into this sector, do so because they want to fight for the rights of the poor and vulnerable. There can be nothing worse than having to turn people away because of limited resources.
Some clients are still entitled to legal aid, including those at risk of losing their homes. But the Legal Action Group (LAG) reports an alarming drop in the number of applications in these cases. This is blamed on a failure by the government to market the services or even to make the public aware. Many believe that there is no legal aid at all any more and little or nothing is done to address that misconception.
They have published a damning report which talks about Legal aid as a secret service –
The report says – ‘The fear is if nothing is done to increase the take-up of civil legal aid, the remaining services will wither away as the lack of use will be used to justify their loss.’
One thing we can all do is make the public aware that there are still streams in the desert!
The Legal profession is doing its bit. There are still may case which are run at no charge. Lawyers in Liverpool are walking around the city this evening to raise funds for the North West Legal Support Trust which assists voluntary agencies.
But it is really a matter for the politicians to see Access to Justice as a right to be enjoyed by all and not just those with the money to pay for it.