Letter: Case for law centres

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The Independent Online
Sir: In your leading article 'One law for the rich, one for the vulnerable' (23 March), you report that the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 'wisely raises proposals to fund salaried lawyers from law centres' as part of a thorough review of the legal aid system.

The Law Centres Federation (LCF), the co-ordinating body for the 55 centres in the UK, has argued consistently that a system concentrating on individual casework delivered through small businesses (solicitors' practices) is not necessarily cost effective, nor does it deliver a targeted or planned service.

Law centres have pioneered a concept of legal services that combines high-quality initial 'diagnostic' advice, legal advice work with groups such as tenants and employees, and important 'test cases' with more traditional casework. It is only this multi-party, multi-forum approach coupled with local planning and accountability that delivers the service which people need.

It is ironic that so many are now calling for an increase in the influence of law centres at a time when the centres themselves are fighting for survival in an unprecedented squeeze on their funding - two more have closed since the turn of the year. The LCF has long called for security of funding for law centres, and has welcomed the current discussions with the Legal Aid Board on limited block-funding of some services, while fearing that this may be too little too late.

As we said in our evidence to the committee on the proposed cuts, short-term measures can only play a part if they create space for significant reforms. Implementation of the proposals alone can only make a desperate situation worse.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN CRAGG

Vice-chair

Law Centres Federation

London, W1

24 March

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