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.
Uncertainty and change reign at the moment, as coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to impact and alter almost every aspect of our world as we know it. The charity sector has been hard hit, with an estimated £4 billion loss in funding. The free legal advice sector is not immune to this new catastrophic loss of funding.
Free legal advice sector challenges
Over the years the sector has endured many challenges: cuts to local government funding, limitations on legal aid through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), the closure of courts and now, a global pandemic.
The very nature of COVID-19 means that there has been a surge in demand for support and help from free legal advice charities as many people seek assistance with employment, housing, and debt. This increased need for urgent, professional advice, combined with a drastic reduction in advice agencies’ income, has created a perfect storm of injustice for so many with nowhere else to turn.
The Legal Walk organisers, the London Legal Support Trust, provide grant funding and support to over 100 advice charities across London and south east England including Law Centres, Citizens Advice, specialist advice centres, and free legal advice clinics. Much of this funding comes from fundraising activities such as the London Legal Walk.
Walk the walk
A true highlight of the legal calendar for 15 years now, the parks and riverside of London have been filled with thousands of solicitors, barristers, judges, support staff, and more, taking on a 10km walk in the glorious sunshine of an early summer evening.
As well as being a fantastic event in itself, the Legal Walk is a hugely important fundraiser. In 2019, over £890,000 was raised by 15,000 participants at the London Legal Walk.
With the introduction of social distancing, it became clear very quickly that the traditional London Legal Walk would not be able to take place as planned on Monday 8 June. It has been postponed to Monday 5 October where the London Legal Support Trust hope lawyers from all parts of the profession will once again be able to walk shoulder to shoulder with peers.
Remote ‘10,000 Steps for Justice’
However, the loss of funding in the interim is substantial and advice agencies are doing all they can to meet rising need despite a drastically restricted income. Emergency applications for funding have been pouring in, with some advice charities citing a 600% increase in requests for help.
Therefore, on Monday 8 June, the legal sector will come together in support of free legal advice agencies in a way fitting of this new virtual world. A remote ‘10,000 Steps for Justice’ challenge will allow all Legal Walk teams to take part from their own homes, local parks, or wherever is safe to do so.
The London Legal Support Trust knows that now is a demanding time for many, and hopes that even if people ‘self-sponsor’ the cost of their daily coffee, weekly commute, or gym membership, some much needed urgent funding will be available for the sector. It is calling for the legal community to once again demonstrate its resilience, compassion, and camaraderie for the access to justice sector – and with over 2,000 walkers committing to take on ‘10,000 Steps for Justice’ so far, it appears that the call is being answered.
Now, more than ever, is the time to come together with peers, colleagues, friends and family, to make a difference and keep these vital lifelines of advice, support, and hope afloat.
Sign up for 10,000 Steps for Justice on Monday 8 June 2020
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