Unable to afford the legal fees, citizens are forced to take the perilous step and represent themselves

 

In the strapped-for-cash Britain of today, free services are becoming increasingly rare. Government cuts have been harsh across many sectors: defence, business, education, health, pensions and more. To the surprise of many, however, a lesser spoken-of sector that has also been hit harshly in the budget cuts of the last decade is Justice — the law. While a high-flying British judge may have a salary that peaks at £1.5 million, and a lawyer of ten to fifteen years may have a healthy six figure income, the justice sector has actually suffered overall cuts of 34.1 per cent since 2010.

Due to the aforementioned cuts, people are struggling. Six Greater Manchester-based law centres have been axed, and the population face greater and greater hardship as a result of welfare cuts, increased redundancies in the workplace and the everlasting issue of racism.

Last year it became clear that an increasing number of people are attempting to represent themselves in courtrooms across the city, and the cuts have had a particularly disproportionate effect on women, disabled people as well as black and ethnic minority communities. In reply to this, local activists and lawyers began to organise a fundraising drive in an effort to provide access to justice for Mancunians.

‘The Government wants to prevent access to justice and does so most effectively by removing the advice agencies that can deliver that access to those most in need’.

‘We say that if people are committed, there will be a new law centre, owned and run by the community and providing high quality legal representation — for free’, Barrister John Nicholson.

And committed, they were. Fortunately for those who have been struggling to find legal representation, Moss Side’s Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) has opened, as a response to the disastrous Tory cuts in the legal sector. With esteemed patrons like Lord Willy Bach, Michael Mansfield QC, John Hendy QC, and Robert Lizar (solicitors), the GMLC is offering free legal advice and representation for those who are unable to afford any, or have previously been denied. The GMLC is fighting back to represent the 2.7 million across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.

‘We do not just want to be a law centre, but a campaign for law centres generally,

Nor do we want just to provide some service delivery, important though it is, on an occasional basis alongside foodbanks or similar.

While we want lawyers to help us by providing pro bono advice, now this isn’t to let Government or Councils off the hook; we need a new generation of paid social welfare lawyers, we demand the restoration of legal aid, and we are first and foremost a campaign for access to justice for all’ — John Nicholson.

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