Friday, 31st March 2023
Today, 31 March, we say farewell to a pioneer of the UK Law Centre movement, Richard Hazell. In his five-decade career, Richard worked at 6 Law Centres before settling at Wiltshire Law Centre, where he spent 41 years, including a six-month job exchange in 1989 with a solicitor from Wellington Law Centre in New Zealand.
Richard has helped thousands of people to save their homes and avoid homelessness. In 1995, he helped Wiltshire Law Centre to gain its first legal aid contract. In 2017, he was awarded the President’s Outstanding Achievement Award by Gloucester & Wiltshire Law Society, and the following year, the Pride of Swindon Award.
When the Law Centre closed temporarily in March 2020 due to the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, Richard ran the service from the front room of his home for four months, answering all calls and keeping in contact with existing clients.
Here’s Richard reflecting on his career in his own words:
What are your most memorable moments and greatest achievements?
“One of the happiest moments was also one of the earliest. In 1973 I remember getting the train to North Kensington, where I found Peter Kandler, the first Law Centre solicitor in the UK, and his colleagues, advising clients in a former butcher’s shop on Golborne Road.
“Working the housing duty desk before Judge Cronin was remarkable. Cases came thick and fast; six every half an hour. We became a sort of double act, and I (effectively became) housing officer and solicitor all rolled into one. It was there I saw the most generous order. Possession was sought against a woman whose six children had been taken into care and whose ex-partner was threatening her with violence. The judge adjourned the case for 6 months and I was able to make the most of those 6 months to help her.
“I feel proud to have steered Wiltshire Law Centre through some very stormy periods. From the 2013 legal aid cuts, to navigating varying support from funders, to the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve come through it stronger.”
What's changed over the years in the Law Centre movement?
“The structure of the advice landscape has certainly changed. Back when I started out we had the blessing of urban aid, which meant a funding package that was 75% central government money and 25% local council money. In the early 80s, we had a council that was very supportive of the voluntary sector. All of this really helped us to do the community work at the core of our mission.
“Over the years, the council has become less supportive, and combined with legal aid cuts and a smaller pool of resources, we’ve lost a lot of advice agencies; it’s only the Law Centre and Citizens Advice left locally. We and other Law Centres have been forced to change, often prioritising casework over community work. We need to get back to that community work focus.”
Is the Law Centre model still working?
“Absolutely. It is adaptive to the client need. Look no further than North Kensington Law Centre and the tragedy of Grenfell. The Law Centre sprang into action, calling for anyone with relevant skills to come and help. They got judicial reviews off the ground immediately, crucial considering that the council response had been so poor.
“There is still great motivation to do innovative work. One limitation is that the funding isn’t always there to support it, but something that has helped enormously is the change in the way people become solicitors. More varied routes into the profession mean that people bring a wealth of expertise.”
What would you like to see for the movement in the future?
“I’d love to see more joined-up services, particularly health-justice partnerships. For example, integrating Law Centres into local GP surgeries. I tried to push for this a decade ago. The reasons for poor health are so often linked to legal problems. Think of poor-quality housing causing stress and other health conditions. Nearly all my clients have a GP and they are often the first port of call. Working together, we’d be able to get to the root of many health conditions, improving people’s lives and taking pressure off health services.
“More initiatives to catch clients early is also crucial. Early legal advice helps to solve people’s problems before they cascade.”
What would you say to a lawyer starting out in a Law Centre now?
“Frist of all, well done for qualifying. You are immensely valuable for any Law Centre to exist. It’s much more fun to be a rebel lawyer than it is to support an oppressive legal system. The rule of law in this country is designed to ensure that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. We fight against that. The work is varied and exciting, and the job satisfaction you will gain from staying in this movement is huge, as I have found myself.”
“Another word of advice: try to become a trustee of a local voluntary sector organisation. Not only is it very useful to have management skills, it keeps you connected to the community you are serving and brings fresh perspectives to your work.”
Read more about Richard’s career in a local news report.
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