MP calls for law centres network

A PARLIAMENTARY early day motion has been tabled by Labour MP Martin Linton calling for the government to set up a national network of law centres.

The tabling of the motion coincides with a meeting organised by the Law Centres Federation, being held at the House of Commons this Wednesday, to discuss plans for such a network. It is expected to be attended by about 50 MPs. The following week, the federation will meet with officials from the Lord Chancellor's Department to discuss its proposals.

Linton said it was “essential” to establish a national network of law centres that provides free legal advice and representation to “fill in the glaring holes in the legal aid system.” His motion urged the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg QC, to “strive to extend the availability of this service throughout the country”.

Federation chair Mahmud Quayum said he was “very confident indeed” that a national network would now go ahead.

The federation wants to bring the number of law centres, currently 52, up to more than 250 to provide a safety net of justice for everyone in the UK unable to claim legal aid.

Quayum claims a network of the law centres, which date from the 1970s, could be funded by a realignment of less than half of 1 per cent of the annual legal aid budget. He added that as the Legal Aid Board underspent its budget this year, the plan could be funded at no extra cost to the taxpayer.

Bob Nightingale, manager of Wandsworth and Merton Law Centre, said: “We don't actually want to change the legal aid system in any way or spend any more money. A national network of centres is important because people are always going to fall through the net.”

Law centres are funded by local authorities, charities and law firms.