Awards: Ethics and thin

As two local law centres are lauded a third succumbs to funding cuts

It was a sad day on 25 June for Birmingham Law Centre (BLC), which closed its doors after savage government funding cuts.

In an ironic twist, the same evening saw Islington and Coventry law centres attend The Lawyer Awards, both shortlisted for Best Ethical Initiative. Coventry was named runner-up for its Troubled Families project. The two schemes were entered against a backdrop of cuts to access to justice, the same cuts which forced BLC’s closure.

Around 2,000 of the most disadvantaged citizens in Birmingham who were helped annually by the centre will now have to go elsewhere. 

A poignant tweet by the centre succinctly drew attention to how deeply affected the justice system is: “This is the saddest tweet I’ve ever had to write: BLC has now closed down.”

The Islington and Coventry projects shortlisted for the awards are filling gaps in state provision. These are either holes left by the Government as it withdraws legal aid and cuts provision and benefits or cases in which clients feel they cannot approach the authorities.

In Coventry’s case, its specialist legal advice to families with complex needs will run for three years, the duration of the Government’s Troubled Families’ scheme, and seeks to prove that government funding is still needed for this work and that legal help is critical in helping families turn their chances around.

Islington targets the 120,000 children and teenagers nationwide who have irregular immigration status and are often isolated, have no state protection, are unable to access education and, as a result, are excluded and face deprivation.

Many of these children fear deportation, unaware they may in fact be British. Their situations need complex legal advice from many areas of the law.

Birmingham’s citizens have now been left without the back-up of their law centre. With ever-more public sector cuts, let’s hope that other centres doing stellar work with people who have slipped through the widening gaps in the state care net do not suffer the same fate.