Conference diary

Debt, employment and family problems aren’t just legal problems for the people who suffer them, they’re also stress & health problems

Saturday lunchtime fringe

At a meeting sponsored by the Bar Council on the subject “ProBono – where are we now?” as part of exploration of legal advice to parents and the campaign.

James Sandbach, Director of Policy & External Affairs at LawWorks sets out the figures: £500m cut out of the £2bn legal aid budget (when I left the Legal Services Commission in 2004, the budget was £3.2bn & we were already talking about “advice deserts”).

This compares to something like £122bn on the NHS & £86bn on education. Entire areas of debt, employment, immigration & family law have been removed from the system. This means not for profit law centres and advice centres closing down, so lawyers don’t have places where people comfortable to go for free advice & the loss of expertise – this work doesn’t get picked up by the commercial sector.

As a result there is a lot of demand on whatever free legal advice solicitors are able to offer as well as a serious drop off in the places you can get advice. London is the best place because of the number of large firms but many High St firms around the country are struggling to offer free advice or no longer have the relevant expertise.

Debt, employment and family problems aren’t just legal problems for the people who suffer them, they’re also stress & health problems, so in some areas, NHS Care Commissioning Group are now helping to fund free advice!

Another speaker gave information about the Personal Support Unit – a charity which gives assistance to people who cannot afford a lawyer. . She says usually people are savvy about using the internet to research but need help with a) finding relevant case law b) “putting information into language the judge can understand” (love that phrase!). Where courts could get through 6 cases in half an hour with lawyers, cases where people represent themselves can take an hour or more each & more returns. Judges like people with PSU support as cases generally quicker.

Advice UK is website giving details of free independent advice agencies.

Advicenow.org.uk gives online info to help yourself.

James & I to catch up again later (I knew him when he was policy officer at Citizens Advice & I was at LSC) so I can pick his brains some more.

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