Stockwell & Clapham Law Centre fights cuts

STOCKWELL & Clapham Law Centre has been granted leave to challenge Lambeth Council’s decision to withdraw all its funding in October 1997 – a move hailed as a victory for the local community.

Mr Justice Sullivan granted the centre leave to judicially review the council after questioning why the law centre and two others in the borough had been singled out for cuts.

The law centre claims it was victimised by the council because of its role in advising many of its clients in bringing lawsuits against it.

It also alleges that the council failed to consult properly and to consider its equal opportunity obligations.

Anthony Robinson, of the law centre’s management committee, said the decision to withdraw grant aid was: “unreasonable, irrational and [had] a discriminatory impact.”

During the hearing, Mr Justice Sullivan asked: “Why, if there were financial reasons for making cuts to voluntary sector organisations, were those cuts not made across the board rather than upon three organisations?”

The council has reacted strongly to the law centre’s claims, saying that it “deeply resents” any allegation that it has failed to carry out its duties under the Race Relations Act and that it is confident that legal proceedings will prove that these allegations are unfounded.

In a statement, the council said that it regretted the budget situation which forced it to look very carefully at discretionary areas of expenditure. As a result of these reviews it was felt necessary to remove funding for both the Brixton and the Stockwell & Clapham law centres. The council added that it was still funding North Lambeth Law Centre, although at an admittedly reduced level.

Some staff have already left the Clapham centre as a result of the lack of funds. Robinson said that the law centre was existing solely on green form legal aid income and the goodwill of the management committee and its supporters in its efforts to survive. A full judicial review hearing is now expected in March or April.