Labour announces plans to empower communities to defend their rights and secure justice
In his speech to Labour Party conference on Sunday, Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, will announce new plans to empower hard-hit communities to defend their legal rights, fight unjust decisions and prevent abuses of power.
Richard Burgon will commit to creating a “new generation of community lawyers” and “a golden era of Law Centres” to ensure communities targeted by Conservative cuts can secure justice.
Burgon, who worked for a decade as a trade union lawyer in his home city of Leeds before being elected as an MP, wants to create a new generation of lawyers from their community fighting for their community.
He will announce Labour’s plans to provide free legal training for 200 community lawyers over the next parliament. He will also announce a £20 million fund to create a new network of People’s Law Centres, where families can get legal support on housing, debt, immigration, discrimination and other key legal support.
Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said:
“The Tories have deliberately undermined people’s ability to get the legal help they often desperately need. That has allowed lousy landlords, bullying bosses, and even the government itself, to trample on people’s rights for far too long.
“When people lack the money or the knowledge to enforce their rights, those rights are not worth the paper they are written on. We will put an end to that and ensure that justice serves the people, not just a privileged few.
“With a new generation of Community Lawyers and People’s Law Centres we’ll help those targeted by the Conservatives’ cuts to fight back, defend their hard-won rights and secure the justice they deserve.”
Notes to editors
New Community Lawyers
- The Labour Party will provide £18m for a scheme supporting the next generation of social welfare lawyers who will help deliver justice in hard-hit communities.
- Labour will fund 200 new posts to bring through the next generation of social welfare lawyers. These will be based in specialist social welfare agencies such as Law Centres or other legal aid providers.
- Social welfare law is a broad term covering areas such as welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment, community care, immigration and asylum.
- Labour will do this by helping to build on the success of initiatives already underway such as the Justice First Fellowship. Each Justice First Fellowship place costs £80,000 comprising the full salary two year salary of Fellow plus 50 per cent to fund the supervision and associated costs of hosting a Fellow. Additional funds for the administration of a dramatic expansion of the current fellowship schemes are also covered.
- This funding will cover the period of compulsory work-based training over two years. During this time in the course of meeting the training requirements, trainee lawyers will deliver 1000s of hours of much-needed services to communities and represent a significant and immediate boost to access to justice.
- Tory austerity has reduced the ability of social welfare legal agencies such as Law Centres and specialist advice agencies to offer these opportunities prompting serious concerns about where the next generation of social welfare lawyers would come from.
People’s Law Centres
- These new Law Centres will provide legal education, take on legal casework, represent vulnerable people and campaign for equality under the law.
- Each Law Centre will provide front line legal services to meet the needs of their area, as well as increasing people’s ability to use the law to support real collective empowerment – for example, tackling poor landlords and unlawful employment practices.
- The Law Centres will be embedded in their communities and sustained with involvement from grassroots organisations, community groups, students, volunteers and pro bono lawyers.
- Over recent months Labour has been working on a blueprint for the future of Law Centres working with experts in the sector. This will be published in the Autumn. It will outline plans for securing existing law centres and boosting their provision with extra staff; and setting up new law centres including special units based in the heart of the community for example in food banks or health clinics.
- The Labour commissioned Bach Report into Access to Justice found that “the squeeze in public funding has led to advice agencies and law centres closing and legal aid lawyers leaving the profession.” http://www.fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Bach-Commission_Right-to-Justice-Report-WEB.pdf
- According to the Law Centres Network there were 63 law centres in 2005 but this has now fallen to just 40, with just under half in London.
- In July 2019 Lambeth Law Centre announced it was closing after nearly 40 years of service citing “financial pressures caused by legal aid cuts”. https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/policy/news/news/lambeth-law-centre-closes-after-nearly-40-years
- Greater Manchester Law Centre offers an illustrative example of the support and benefits that law centres provide to their community. The Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) has recovered over £1.5m in social security benefits which the DWP wrongly refused people since opening in 2016. The benefits include financial support for those unable to work and payments to assist with costs caused by long term ill-health or disability. https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Greater_Manchester_Law_Centre_Manifesto_2109_spreads.pdf
In 2013, a PwC assessment of Law Centres’ social and economic impact calculated that Law Centres have produced net direct cost savings to the Treasury of £212m-£247m. https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/asset/download/451