Law firms pledge £85,000 to emergency seed fund, which will launch to the public in July to underpin the broken legal aid system
Fifty years since their founding, Law Centres are facing a challenge to survive. By shutting down courts and so cutting Legal Aid payments that Law Centres rely on, Covid-19 threatens to bankrupt 50% of Law Centres within three months as their cash reserves run out.
Law Centres are charities that defend the legal rights of people who cannot afford a lawyer. Over the past decade 20% of Law Centres have closed because government funding for Legal Aid was cut by over 60%. This meant that last year, some 835,000 cases including unfair dismissals, child custody and housing disrepair could not be helped because Legal Aid no longer covered them.
City law firms are being approached to help establish a new Justice Fund, which will provide emergency support to Law Centres during the Covid-19 crisis. The fund will also serve as a long-term additional source of funds, to support the wide range of cases no longer funded by Legal Aid. The fund is set to launch to the public in July, to mark the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first Law Centres.
Demand for Law Centres’ legal advice is expected to increase through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond it, as job losses, evictions and family breakdowns become much more commonplace, giving rise to legal problems that threaten homes and livelihoods.
Following the 2008 global financial crisis, demand for Law Centre services surged by 30%. The Covid-19 pandemic is already more pervasive and is expected to have a more profound effect on the UK’s economy. Authorities are already reporting a marked rise in domestic abuse incidents. In just nine days since social distancing measures began, nearly half a million new Universal Credit claims were made. Social strife is increasing, and legal help must increase to meet growing need.
Julie Bishop, of the Law Centres Network said:
“Many Law Centres were operating on a knife edge financially and the Covid-19 crisis has made the situation even more dire. Without emergency funding many centres will close imminently and leave their communities without vital support, at a time when so many vulnerable people are facing uncertainty.”
To find out more about how to donate, please contact Julie Bishop, Director Law Centres Network [email protected].