Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Law Centres in Crisis

LAG has learnt that Gateshead Law Centre called in the receivers last Friday (7th March) after getting into financial difficulties. Gateshead joins Stockport Law Centre which closed its doors in November last year due to problems meeting the targets under the Legal Services Commission’s new fixed fee contracts.

Gateshead Law Centre was part of the first Community Legal Advice Centre (CLAC) the Legal Services flagship policy for civil legal services which has had difficulties getting off the ground. LAG understands that the continuation of the CLAC is in doubt, and decisions have yet to be made on whether the contract for the CLAC will be tendered again.

A survey published today by the Law Centres Federation indicates that twenty out of the 58 remaining Law Centres are having difficulties meeting the new targets. There are eight centres claiming to be under risk of closing. Among these is the largest law centre, South West London Law Centres which has a turnover approaching £2m and has offices in Battersea, Kingston and Wandsworth.

The centre’s Director Michael Ashe fears they will be forced to close leaving clients no-where to go. ‘The work we do is not glamorous, but it is vital,” he says. “There are desperate people queuing outside our doors for hours each night in the depths of winter to see volunteer advisers because their low-wage jobs mean they are not eligible for legal aid….We stay at work in the evenings and come in at weekends because we cannot balance the books any other way, and because there is always another vulnerable person denied their rights who we cannot let down. Like doctors, nurses and teachers, we just want to be allowed to do our job, and do it well.”

“LAG would urge the Government and LSC to look again at the fixed fee regime, as clearly the fees are too low to sustain many services” says Steve Hynes, Director of LAG. A report on the plight of Law Centres will be published in next months Legal Action.

1 comment:

Madge said...

People should read this.