Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Law Centre fights back against the LSC

South Manchester Law Centre was claiming victory this week in the first round of its legal battle against the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to stay open.

The Law Centre, which is under threat of closure after having cash withdrawn from it by the LSC and Manchester City Council, brought a judicial review claim against the LSC to challenge its decision to withdraw the bulk of the Law Centre’s funding for immigration work. The judge in the case, after a day of legal argument on Monday, ruled that two key elements in the tendering process under which the LSC awarded the contracts for the work could be illegal and that the case should proceed to a full hearing. The Law Centre expects the case to be heard early next month.

Paul Morris from the Law Centre told LAG, 'The ruling throws into doubt the LSC’s entire national immigration and asylum legal aid contract. The judge said that he believed the winner takes all approach to the contracts in Manchester was irrational.'

The case will turn on the criteria adopted by the LSC to select between the different organisations applying for contracts. The LSC adopted criteria which, according to Morris, were unfair: 'The successful bidder scored a crucial single point more than the other providers just for putting in an application for level three accreditation. This accreditation has no practical value as it is of no help to clients.'

The LSC brought up a QC from London to present its case while the Law Centre had to rely on barristers from Manchester chambers Kenworthy's, working for no fee, to present its case. The Law Centre has had other support in its campaign to stay open. Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, turned out to join a demonstration outside the court to support the Law Centre. They were joined by supporters of Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, which is facing similar cuts after losing out in the tender bid round.

'We are delighted with this result especially given the LSC, at public expense, sent one of the country’s leading QCs from London to argue its case. For a small community-based organisation such as ours to win in the High Court is a substantial achievement,' said Morris.

All of the immigration law providers who lost out in the tender round will be following what happens in Manchester closely. Like the Law Centre, many are not convinced that the level three criterion adds anything to client services and argue it penalises smaller organisations, which provide good quality services, but which do not have the resources to invest in acquiring the accreditation.

Image: South Manchester Law Centre

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