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Law centres face 55 per cent legal aid cut

14 February 2011

Law centres will lose £5m or 55 per cent of their legal aid funding under the government’s green paper proposals, the Law Centres Federation (LCF) has calculated.

Julie Bishop, chief executive of the LCF, said, bearing in mind the impact of cuts in local and central government funding, some law centres would be forced to close.

“Some will close for sure,” Bishop said. “We won’t be able to save them all, though we are working furiously to develop mechanisms to enable them to continue.”

Bishop said that, along with the legal aid cuts, the LCF estimated that law centres would be hit by a 30 per cent cut in local authority funding and a 50 per cent cut in central government grants. As a result, she said, the total funds received by law centres would be cut by more than a half, reducing the number of clients they could deal with every year from 120,000 to only 50,000.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal, Margie Butler, chief executive of the Mary Ward Legal Centre, said that if there were no positive developments by the end of the year the centre would close.

Of the law centre’s total annual income of £1.4m, £600,000 comes from legal aid.

A further £400,000 comes from the financial inclusion fund, but this will end on 31 March 2011.

The centre receives a further £250,000 from local government – all of which is due to disappear by December 2011. Butler said she was making eight caseworkers redundant as a result.

The combined effect of the cuts would leave the Mary Ward Legal Centre only with the money it receives in private donations – under £160,000.

“Complex debt, housing and welfare work will disappear,” Butler said. “There will be nowhere for the pro bono work to happen.”

The legal centre currently employs 34 staff, including nine solicitors. Over 40 City lawyers provide pro bono advice at evening clinics.

Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, said: “Some law centres get 80 per cent of their funding from legal aid, others more like 20 per cent. The ones that are on 80 per cent are not going to survive in their present form. Half of law centres could be in that position.

“If half of them did shut, it would have an enormous impact on their communities. They are often the main provider of advice on social welfare law.”

Maria Coffee-Kosarova, office co-ordinator at Hammersmith and Fulham law centre, said the centre lost its last £100,000 of local authority funding in October.

She said the legal aid cuts were “devastating news” and the centre would not be able to survive.

The centre specialises in housing, immigration and community care law, and employs seven solicitors and five other staff.

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