Legal Aid

Law centres protest

PUBLISHED March 15, 2007

Law centres are threatening to end co-operation with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) in protest at funding cuts.

At a special meeting last week, the country?s 60 law centres called for a rolling campaign over a financial crisis which they say has been caused by the LSC?s and local authorities? decisions to squeeze funding.

Some 50% of law centre funding currently comes from the LSC and around 40% from local government. It is feared that fixed fees could lead to a 20% reduction in services as well as a reduction in specialist casework.

John Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Law Centres Federation, said the LSC?s plan to introduce fixed fees was effectively ?dumbing down legal services?.

He added: ?There will be an irresistible pressure to push more simple cases through the legal aid system at the expense of the complex cases all legal aid lawyers try to take up, and that law centres specialise in.?

The campaign will include demonstrations, media lobbying and non-cooperation with the LSC after 1 October 2007, when fixed fees are to be introduced.

A spokeswoman for the LSC insisted that fixed fees would not result in cuts. She said: ?We want to continue our investment in the not-for-profit (NfP) sector and our changes present a real opportunity for good NfP organisations.?

The LSC will work with the sector on transitional arrangements that will allow agencies to adjust, she added.

Jonathan Rayner