Rosa Coleman is a marketing and development officer at the charity London Legal Support Trust and shares how access to justice and legal aid is under threat, and what you can do to help.
As Lady Hale has said: “Everyone deserves access to justice whether or not they can afford a lawyer”. That is why legal aid is vital to a fair society. It ensures that people who can’t afford to pay for justice can access it. It’s why cuts to legal aid and other support systems are so concerning. It means that access to justice is arguably now being treated as a privilege rather than a right.
2012 saw the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). While cuts to legal aid didn’t start with LASPO, the Act did seriously restrict the availability of legal aid. People with needs related to family law, welfare, debt, and housing, were among those most affected.
There is an access to justice crisis
For many people, the first they know of the UK’s justice crisis is when they find themselves in a desperate situation without the help they need.
The UN has said that legal aid in the UK has been “decimated”. The number of legal advice centres halved between 2013-14 and 2019-20. However, because many of us are fortunate enough to go through our lives without ever experiencing unlawful dismissal without fair recourse to challenge it, homelessness due to an unscrupulous landlord, or an unfairly rejected Universal Credit application, we go on without giving access to justice a second thought.
Some areas of the UK don’t have any legal aid providers, so even those eligible for legal aid cannot get help as they are in a legal aid desert. This is compounded by austerity and the resulting local authority budget squeeze, which means that advice services are less available.
It’s the most vulnerable people who are most in need of protection from abuse by those more powerful than them. Those are now the very people who, due to reforms, find themselves unable to access justice. This has led to an uneven playing field that favours those with deep pockets.
So how can desserts help with deserts?
Lawyers aren’t taking this lying down, and are raising dough for frontline free legal advice agencies. In 2019, over 250 Great Legal Bake sales raised £36,500 nationally and with your help, the next one can be even bigger and… (wait for it) ‘batter’.
The London Legal Support Trust organises many fundraising activities to support access to justice, and they support over 100 advice agencies a year with the funds raised from these activities. The best known is the London Legal Walk, which in 2019 saw 15,000 solicitors, barristers, judges, advice agencies, support staff, trainees, students, and others raise over £890,000 to support frontline free legal advice agencies.
An apron is just a backwards cape. Be a hero for justice
The Great Legal Bake 2020 runs from Monday 10 to Friday 14 February. The main focus is on Wednesday 12, and you can hold a bake whenever suits you.
Taking part is as easy as pie. All you need to do is register and they’ll send you a helpful pack to get you started. Then get baking or, if you’re a crummy cook and still want to take part, why not see if a local store might donate some cupcakes?
On the day, you just sell your yummy treats to your friends, family or colleagues. All the ‘dough’ raised will make a real difference to some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society
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London Legal Support Trust
Read about our early advice and legal aid deserts access to justice campaigns
Explore our Solicitors' pro bono toolkit and Pro Bono Manual
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about pro bono
Read our 2018 blog by Laura Bee Pro bono – good for the community, good for lawyers too
Read founder and head of fundraising at the London Legal Support Trust Bob Nightingale's blogs How to fundraise for a Legal Walk: 6 top tips and London Legal Walk: supporting access to justice
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