It’s time for the Public Law Project annual North conference.

This year, the PLP annual North conference, in Manchester, is on the theme of Legal Aid and Society. It takes place on Thursday the 19th of July 2019 and as in 2018 it will take place at BPP Law School, St James’s Building, Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ

As the Government reviews the implementation of LASPO, we look at access to legal aid and the impact of legal aid cuts on society.

The conference presents a unique mix of practical workshops, research, discussion, and informal exchange with leading experts in legal aid, access to justice and advice provision.

Legal Aid and low income

Today the legal aid system only provides for people on the very lowest incomes and even those receiving out of work benefits are often excluded due the value of their homes being taken into account. Millions with low working incomes cannot afford to pay legal costs, whilst the numbers struggling to reach an acceptable standard of living has risen significantly. This talk looks at how austerity and legal aid cuts interact.

Prof Donald Hirsch, Loughborough University

Challenging procurement and grant funding decisions – what you need to know

This session will focus on Legal Aid Agency contracts, bids for grant funding and other public contracts, practice and procedure: the Public Contracts Regulations and judicial review

Polly Brendon, Public Law Project

Jason Coppel QC at 11KBW 

Exceptional Case Funding 

There are Common misconceptions regarding what is out of scope of Exceptional Case Funding (ECF), immigration and housing in particular. This session look at how to apply for ECF, common problems and what we know about success rates.

Joseph Markus and James Stark, Garden Court North 

Katy Watts, Public Law Project

Legal aid and access to justice for modern slavery victims

This session will look at immigration legal aid for modern slavery victims and a recent judicial review of the Legal Aid Agency when legal aid was refused for a victim. It will also look at cases highlighting why legal aid is essential to build the case of leave to remain during the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process and to challenging unlawful decisions on leave.

Lucy Mair, Garden Court North

Carita Thomas, Anti–Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU)

Preparing evidence for the LASPOA review

This session will seek to help organisations or individuals preparing to feed into the Governments review of LASPOA implementation. It will look at evidence gathering and presentation and how to show insight from your clients or your organisations perspective.

Jess Mant, Cardiff University School of Law and Politics

Carol Storer, Legal Aid Practitioners Group

Emma Marshall, Public Law Project

Top legal aid and access to justice cases of recent years

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) has generated a significant number of cases challenging the legislation and its implementation on behalf of those affected. Alison will look at the impact of the cases and some themes running through them.

Alison Pickup, Legal Director, Public Law Project

The experiences of self-representing litigants
This presentation concerns a three year project interviewing litigants in person (LIPS). Although Jess’s work focuses on the family court, the presentation will consider common problems facing those appearing in court without representation.

Jess Mant, Cardiff University School for Law and Politics

The full agenda can be found on the PLP web site whilst the pdf programme can be found here. Last year GMWRAG members, probably for the first time, attended en masse and were overwhelmed with the sheer quality of what was on offer in terms of the standard of speakers; the quality of the workshops and the intensity of the day. The buffet wasn’t half bad either.

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Maxine Peake supports Bolton Law Centre appeal.

After the successful launch of the Greater Manchester Law Centre in Moss Side two years ago, campaigners are now seeking to create a centre in Bolton, run by the community for the community.

With the massive reductions in Legal Aid, community access to justice was reignited by the founding of the Greater Manchester Law Centre Moss Side, which opened its doors in 2016. Since then, over £500,000 worth of benefits have been reclaimed from the DWP for Greater Manchester residents, while many others have received free advice on a number of issues.

On Friday February 2nd, there’s a public meeting to found another law centre, in Bolton, with speakers including Bolton South East MP, Yasmin Qureshi and Denise McDowell of the Greater Manchester Law Centre.

“More and more families and individuals are finding themselves in positions where access to the law is being denied them, at precisely the time when they are most in need of it” says Maxine Peake, who is supporting the Bolton appeal.

“Universal Credit, the denial of employment rights through zero hours contracts and minimum wage infringements and a hardening of the Government’s stance against refugees and asylum seekers all make the Law centre Bolton urgent and necessary” she explains “I welcome and support the initiative whole heartedly.”

While the Centre would be based in Bolton it would be open and accessible to Salford people and anyone in Greater Manchester.

“We are not just a campaign for access to advice, or even access to the law, we are a campaign for justice” states the Greater Manchester Law Centre “We call for full and equal legal advice and representation for the claimants, as the state awards (out of our taxation) to the police and other departments of the state. We want independent walk-in face-to-face advice for everyone in need in all ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.”

“Bolton Needs A Law Centre”
Friday 2nd February 7pm-8pm
Bolton Central Library
Le Mans Crescent BL1 1SE

If anyone can’t make the meeting but wants to donate towards the centre the account details are Lloyds Bank Sort Code: 309192 Account Number: 55658268

Further details on the Bolton Needs A Law Centre Facebook event page.

NB: Maxine Peake was due to speak at this event but has had to cancel due to other commitments

 

Welfare benefits advisers – we need you!

GMLC volunteer ad gmlc-logoThere are only 2 law centres in Bury and Rochdale, with the rest of Greater Manchester (and its 2.7 million people) effectively being a ‘law centre-free zone’. In addition to the increased number of people representing themselves, a recent report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission citing the disproportionate effect of the legal aid reforms and law centre closures on women, disabled people and BME communities, the demand for a new law centre is clear. Quite simply, no representation means no access to justice.

In 2015, legal aid lawyers, trade unionists and advice organisations came together to set up a community law centre for Greater Manchester. The centre intends to provide access to high-quality, free legal advice and representation for people in Greater Manchester and to empower people to use their voices to campaign for change.

Volunteers will be the backbone of this law centre.

We have launched a pilot scheme that delivers advice and representation in welfare benefits and are looking for volunteer advisers and lawyers to help deliver these services.

If you are:

  • an experienced welfare benefits adviser or lawyer.
  • able to volunteer a few hours each week.
  • eager to be involved at the start of an exciting new project, then we would love to hear from you.

Please send over a CV with details of your experience in welfare benefits advice and representation to ngaryanli@gmlaw.org.uk by Tuesday 31st January, 6pm.

You can download a pdf version of this post from https://gmwrag.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/gllc-volunteer-ad.pdf

Justice in freefall.

GMWRAG members may want to link this post back to the now distant creation of our Access 2 Advice pages and our many posts updating on the work of the Low Commission.

Our friends at Legal Action have, to quote them directly, ended “… the year with a new report analysing the Ministry of Justice’s legal aid statistics and other evidence to identify the key trends in the legal aid market since the passage and implementation of LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) which came into effect in April 2013.

It’s not exactly a report infused with Christmas cheer – so don’t leave it until Christmas day to have a read.

Year after year the Ministry of Justice have been cutting civil legal aid more than they originally intended to, leaving large budget under-spends and even larger advice deserts, whilst at the same time surrounding the system with ever more suffocating and costly bureaucracy.”

We’re going to repeat what they say on their site in full as we think you need to see it and spread it. It bears repeating far and wide.

“The report’s main findings are-

  • Basic advice cases (known as civil legal help), have dropped by 75% after the implementation of the legal aid cuts in April 2013, and are continuing to fall.
  • Just over the last year the number of housing cases reduced by 18%, having already halved since 2013; the number of areas with no provision at all is growing.
  • The telephone gateway established to help people with debt, special educational needs and discrimination cases is failing the public- out of 165,000 calls last year only just over 10% were referred on to specialists for help.
  • The exceptional funding mechanism has demonstrably failed, with low take up and low numbers of applications (under 10%) granted.
  • Despite cuts to legal aid of 25% the Legal Aid Agency’s administrative budget has increased to over £100m.
  • There has been a 25% decline in solicitors firms undertaking civil legal aid work and this is leading to a lack of availability of the legal aid services which remain in scope.
  • Legal aid and other cuts have had an even greater impact on not for profit providers as these have declined by 50% in ten years

By this stage you might be asking is there anything new or different happening that we can hold onto for the hope of better publicly funded provision for access to justice?  Well perhaps.

Some time in 2017 the MoJ will commence its long-awaited post-implementation review of the LASPO reforms. There is also a new strategy for the justice system at the MoJ underpinned by the principles that the system should be just, proportionate, accessible, and involving extensive investment in courts reform and modernisation. Both the review and the reform programme are integral to the responsibilities of Sir Oliver Heald MP QC as Minister of State for Justice who has shown far greater willingness to engage and listen than his recent predecessors – so it is essential that the professions and advocacy groups engage constructively with the review.

Our report spells out some key recommendations for next year:-

  • Immediate commencement of the LASPO post-implementation review which should be undertaken independently from the Ministry of Justice, looking at whether, and set against three clear criteria for change and improvement in the legal aid system– just, proportionate, and accessible
  • The existing under-spend in the civil legal aid from the past three years should be re-invested in an innovation and early intervention fund which could be distributed on the basis of grant funding bids (for example for second tier specialist support, online tools, and public legal education projects).

The Ministry of Justice should set a target for reducing spend on bureaucracy and re-investing this in frontline services and contracts; achievable by greater discretion and delegation of powers and decision-making.

  • Immediate action should to address the low approval rates for exceptional funding through improving the guidance to decision-makers and reducing bureaucracy.
  • As a response to low take-up of civil legal aid, the MoJ needs to start a public information campaign about what problems legal aid is available for, how to seek help; this could be linked to a wider public legal education initiatives.

Immediate action should be taken over the emergence of housing legal aid deserts, by making arrangements to ensure there is contracted provision in all procurement areas and introducing greater flexibility within housing legal aid work to enable providers to undertake preventative work.

The Guardian carried a story on the report in its edition on Monday the 19th of December 2016.

Note – Since completing our report, the figures for the 3rd Quarter of 2016 have just been published showing a further decline in civil legal help over the current year. Workload in housing for example is down 9% from the same quarter last year, immigration works down 22% and help for discrimination cases is down by about a third.  

Online consultation on “Removing barriers to competition in legal services.”

The government has launched a consultation on removing barriers to entry for alternative business models in legal services. GMWRAG can’t help but struggle to think of an area of life where “greater competition” has reduced cost and may even wonder out loud if the solution for affordable legal services might be something called Legal Aid rather than introducing non-lawyers as a means of cost-cutting. Nevertheless, the government tells us that

“Alternative Business Structures (ABS) are firms which are partly or wholly owned or controlled by non-lawyers to provide legal services, or a mixture of legal and non-legal services.

We are consulting on proposals for changes that would, if made, reduce barriers to the licensing of, and regulatory burdens on, legal services businesses that are licensed as ABS, bringing the legislative framework for these businesses more in line with that for other legal services businesses.

We believe this would open up the legal services sector to more innovative businesses, encouraging greater competition and affordable legal advice for consumers”.

This is a 4 week online consultation, which can be completed at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/legal-services-removing-barriers-to-competition/consultation with more information at www.gov.uk/government/speeches/legal-services-regulation.

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/legal-services-removing-barriers-to-competition