Law centres' roadshow takes legal aid warning to grass roots

A NATIONWIDE speaking tour is being staged by the Law Centres Federation in a unique bid to highlight the organisation's fears about the consequences of the Government's planned legal aid reforms.

In what is a first for the federation, it hopes to hold meetings at most of the country's 55 law centres over the following months.

Speakers at each meeting will address a different topic and how it relates to the law, but a common theme will be the Government's legal aid plans

Last week headmasters and law centre members spoke to members of the public about education at Brent Law Centre.

Next week racism and the law will be discussed at Brixton Law Centre. Other planned topics include disability rights, asylum and homelessness.

The tour's organiser, John Fitzpatrick from Hammersmith and Fulham's law centre, said: “The aim is to take these issues to the grass roots and to discuss them with the people who will be most affected. At each meeting speakers will address the public legal services question and the real problems facing the people who use these services.

“It is a response to the Government's constant cuts and squeezes and about renewing the sense of purpose of the law centres.”

At each meeting a member of the Law Centres Federation will also address the issue of legal aid, including the federation's opposition to a cap on the legal aid budget at a national and local level.

Speakers will explain law centre opposition to plans the federation believes will lead to the introduction of the idea of the deserving and non-deserving applicant. The requirement for legal aid users to pay contributions and the increasing pressure on lawyers and advisers to spend less time on clients will also be attacked, as will the failure to extend legal aid to tribunals and the squeeze on law centre funding.

Fitzpatrick said: “Hopefully this is the first step towards reasserting the distinctive character of law centres. It is a way of getting the issue off the ground and increasing public support.”