Labour: Law Centres key to future legal assistance strategy

Monday, September 24th 2018

Richard Burgon at Kirklees

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon MP with Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre director Nick Whittingham last week.

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon MP, has pledged more legal assistance for people and communities struggling under austerity policies. He saw Law Centres as key to this commitment and will be working with the Law Centres Network to draw up a plan for bolstering access to justice. 

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Mr Burgon outlined his vision for strengthening local legal assistance, in which he saw Law Centres as "agents of empowerment". This included increasing funding for existing Law Centres as well as setting up new ones in areas that currently lack them. 

Addressing concerns about the legal advice sector's workforce, Mr Burgon said he wanted to turn Law Centres into "a key training ground" for new lawyers drawn from their own communities, thereby also increasing the diversity of the legal professions.

Following recommendations of the Bach Commission from 2017, Mr Burgon placed particular emphasis on reintroducing early legal advice, calling the coalition government's legal aid cuts of 2013 a "false economy" that shifted public costs elsewhere.

Mr Burgon said: 

"I want to see each and every Law Centre getting a serious boost to the number of lawyers they have and becoming a key training ground for a new generation of lawyers from their communities and representing their communities. We are committed to boosting the role of Law Centres throughout the country so that communities can have better access to legal support.”

Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, said:

"For 48 years, Law Centres have been using the law to help disadvantaged people protect their homes and livelihoods. We see every day how years of austerity policies have hit ordinary people hard – and then weakened their ability to challenge the everyday injustices these policies generate. Community-based legal assistance is a key part of our social safety net, and we welcome Labour’s commitment to bolster it.”

The Law Centres Network continues to work with all parties interested in securing sustainable access to legal assistance for the future. We have contributed extensively to the government's legal aid review and have made representations to ministers, officials and parliamentarians, covering current challenges as well as proposals for future provision. 

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In the news:

Huffington Post UK: Labour Pledges Legal Support for People to Fight Effects of Tory Cuts

Law Society Gazette: Labour: We Will Build More Law Centres

The Times: Restore Legal Aid for Initial Advice, Says Shadow Justice Secretary

Law Society Gazette: News Focus: Labour reveals justice plans