Outer London boroughs suffer major shortfall of Law Centres

Londoners in 13 boroughs are still without a law centre, despite the fact that it would cost a mere £2.5m to put a centre in every borough across the capital.

According to Noeleen Adams of the Law Centres Federation’s London Unit, it costs less than £250,000 to set up a law centre, and yet residents in 13 boroughs, mainly in outer London, are still without free specialist legal advice.

The ‘eastern corridor’ of London is most affected by the shortage, with residents in Havering, Barking, Redbridge and Newham all without a law centre. Local firms have responded by setting up their own legal advice clinics. In one case, the clinic is run out of a corporate box at West Ham United’s stadium.

The best-established and funded law centres are in Central London, most notably Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth and Merton. However, while populations in outer London continue to grow, the Legal Services Commission has openly emphasised regional England in its funding allocation. And most City firms’ pro bono programmes remain City-focused. The result is that many populations of outer London in particular are struggling to access legal advice.

Earlier this month, Enfield Law Centre became the first to open in the capital in 20 years. It was not a Legal Services Commission initiative, but a product of Enfield’s local community. The Community Fund, which contributed £250,000 over two years, was the major contributor, while the City Parochial Foundation, the Association of London Government, the Enfield Strategic Partnership and the Legal Services Commission were the other main funding providers.

The new centre will operate out of Edmonton – the poorest part of the borough – where the need for free legal advice is greatest. For the first time, Enfield residents will be able to receive free legal advice in their local area on housing, employment, welfare benefits tribunals and immigration. A project targeted specifically at young people will also be run out of the centre. The StreetLegal Project offers advice on homelessness, police powers and other legal issues affecting children and young people.

Local law firms have shown an exemplary involvement in the new centre. However, as Adams points out: “Local lawyers are involved, but they don’t have the big bucks to donate.”

There are 57 law centres throughout England, 22 of which are in London. Adams says the Law Centres Federation is working with local communities to devise strategies to address the legal services crisis in East London. In the meantime, residents will just have to wait.
According to Adams: “There is literally nothing available for East London residents. I have no idea how they get legal advice.”

YSG Pro Bono Awards
The Young Solicitors Group (YSG) is inviting entries to its Pro Bono Awards 2004. The YSG founded the awards in 1998 and this year they will be bigger and better than ever. The aim of the awards is to recognise and celebrate the large amount of valuable work done by young solicitors in providing free legal services in the community and publicly to applaud outstanding achievements by individuals and groups. The closing date for entries is 13 April with an award ceremony on 7 June 2004 at the start of National Pro Bono Week. For more information on the awards and how to enter, please go to www.ysg.org/probono.asp.