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Spotlight on: Access to Justice Foundation
As part of her presidential year plan, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce selected three charities to work with, including the Access to Justice Foundation. Stephanie and CEO Clare Carter explain how the charity works to increase the support available to vulnerable people requiring access to the legal system through strategic grant making and support to the advice sector.
“At the start of my term as president of the Law Society of England and Wales in March 2021, I set out seven priority areas that I would focus on during my time in office.
“One of these was to focus on increasing access to justice for all. With ordinary people finding it more difficult to access justice because of issues including legal aid cuts, court closures, increased court fees and changes to the rules regarding the legal costs a client can recover, now more than ever it is vital we continue to campaign to improve access to justice, regardless of social background or wealth.
“With this is mind, during my presidential year, I am working alongside our members to ensure that access to justice and the rule of law are in clear focus and it is for this reason I chose the Access to Justice Foundation as one of my presidential charities.
“Set up by the legal profession, the Access to Justice Foundation is the only national charity solely focused on funding and supporting access to justice. I recommend reading more about their work and how law firms, organisations and individuals can get involved in supporting what they do.”
I. Stephanie Boyce
Clare Carter, CEO of the Access to Justice Foundation
On behalf the Access to Justice Foundation, I am delighted that I. Stephanie Boyce has chosen the foundation as one of the charities she will support and raise awareness of during her presidency.
The Law Society is one of the foundation’s founding organisations and, since our inception, has been a key supporter of our work and events, sharing our common goal of improving access to justice for all.
The foundation relies upon the support and generosity of the legal profession and is grateful to all those campaigning for and supporting access to justice causes – this work is so important in these precarious times.
We are so grateful to Stephanie for her support and look forward to working closely together during her presidency.
For those unfamiliar with our work, the Foundation was set up by the legal profession in 2008 to improve access to justice for the most vulnerable people in society.
We raise funds and distribute them strategically to organisations such as Law Centres, local citizens advice, independent advice agencies, pro bono projects and national charities, which all help to facilitate access to justice.
To ensure that help continues to reach those most in need, and at the point of need, we work in partnership with several regional committees. Committees are led by volunteer lawyers, students/trainees, legal academics, and members of the judiciary.
We are also supporting the development of similar initiatives in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important advice services are within the community, with demand for services increasing dramatically in the past year, whilst resources have decreased.
Without further funding, many advice services must either turn vulnerable clients away, or some will be forced to close.
How to support the Access to Justice Foundation
There are several ways in which Law Society members, both individuals and organisations, can show their direct support to the foundation.
We encourage you to take a few moments to learn more.
Regional committees rely upon the support of their local network. We encourage you to seek out your local committee and identify ways in which you can add to their support.
Fundraising events are a vital source of income for access to justice services in England, Scotland and Wales and include the regional Legal Walks – with events in cities such as Newcastle, Exeter and Swansea this October, there is no time like the present to show your support.
Unclaimed client accounts
We encourage Law Society members to check that full use is being made of their unclaimed/residual client account balances.
Under rule 5.1(c) of the SRA Accounts Rules, SRA-regulated firms can donate these balances to the foundation, once efforts to trace clients have failed.
These donations are fully indemnified by the foundation and will be returned to the donor organisation if a client is later traced. In the meantime, funds can be put to great use whilst client accounts remain SRA Accounts Rules-compliant.
There is no sum too small: the foundation appreciates every single donation.
Pro bono costs orders
Pro bono costs orders are like ordinary legal costs, and apply where a party was represented for free in relation to successful civil proceedings.
The costs must be paid to the Access to Justice Foundation, who distribute the funds to agencies and projects giving free legal help to those in need.
Since the pandemic, the foundation has witnessed a significant reduction in funds received from pro bono costs orders than in previous years.
Whilst we fully appreciate that this was unavoidable due to the unprecedented circumstances we have all faced, with the help of Law Society members we are confident that we can make up for the lost opportunity.
Funding justice in challenging times
Before COVID-19, times were already challenging for those seeking access to justice.
The reduction in the availability of public funding, with civil legal aid provision £318 million lower in real terms than it was fifteen years ago, continues to fuel the desperate need for good-quality free legal advice and has resulted in a reduced and uneven provision of free legal assistance across the country.
Last year, the pandemic pushed an already fragile sector to breaking point.
In response, the foundation joined forces with six other grant-giving foundations to launch the Community Justice Fund, an initiative to provide financial and other support to specialist social welfare legal advice organisations during the crisis.
Last year, over £11.5m was awarded to 178 organisations with a further £3.4 million given this year.
Whilst we’re pleased to have been able to support the sector further through the Community Justice Fund, more funds are urgently needed to support the provision of specialist legal advice across the UK, and this will continue to be an area of focus for the foundation and our fundraising initiatives over the next year.
This is an increasingly challenging time for the sector, and we will continue doing all that we can to support and sustain the provision of specialist legal advice across the UK.
The support from the legal profession is essential to the work that we do. If you share our goals to strengthen the advice sector and enable a fair and equal society where everyone can access the legal support they need to exercise their rights, we want to hear from you.
To find out more about how you can get involved, visit the Access to Justice Foundation website.