After the hard work of countless activists across Greater Manchester, on the 11th of February, the doors will open to Greater Manchester's newest law centre. The centre, ran by chair John Nicholson, is focussing on providing services to the local community such as welfare rights, challenging the negative Employment Support Allowance decisions seen in recent months and offering free legal advice to those in need. Ran mainly by volunteers, who could qualify as local superheroes, the centre relies on individual and community efforts to keep afloat.
In a press release, the centre stated "Legal aid has been cut and cut again. The Government wants to prevent access to justice and does so most effectively by removing the advice agencies that can deliver access to those most in need. The government says internet or telephone is enough to meet the advice needs of people in poverty and vulnerability; when advisers know full well that complex welfare rights and benefits, amongst other issues, demand walk-in, face-to-face advice in person, and professional legal representation. Younger people cannot easily become social welfare lawyers when overwhelmed by student debt - and with fewer and fewer job opportunities even for those who might want to work in legal aid."
And this is at a time when people are facing vicious benefit sanctions, homelessness, escalating racism, cuts in health and education.....
Across the 10 districts of the county of Greater Manchester there used to be 9 law centres. The closure of South Manchester Law Centre in 2014, after four years of fighting cuts and contract reorganisations, left just 2 (Bury and Rochdale). Inner city Salford /Manchester / Old Trafford had NO law centre. It was effectively a "law centre free zone".
So a group of legal aid lawyers, trade unionists and community advice organisations came together to say that this could not go on. This is when the idea for the law centre was born. Incredibly, this idea will become a reality on February the 11th, and the event is open to the public to celebrate this amazing achievement with the local community.
The law centre is making a stand, going against the grain of cuts and closures, and setting up a community law centre for Greater Manchester. Enabling people locally to campaign for change as well as to start to provide access to free and independent legal advice and representation for those who could not otherwise afford it.
The law centre stated "We had no funds. We had no premises. But we had the commitment of people who share our view - that legal advice is a crucial part of the welfare state - and who were prepared to put their time and money towards it."
Chair John Nicholson says "We are not just a law centre, but a campaign - for law centres generally. We aren't providing a bit of service delivery, though that is important, on the lines of food banks - we are a campaign for properly funded legal aid. We are fighting for a new generation of publicly funded social welfare lawyers - while it is great to get so much support from pro bono volunteers, we are not just here to mask the severity of cuts and closures. We are not an isolated organisation, competing with others for the crumbs of statutory sector funding; we want to campaign with others for more for all of us.
And we do not just want access to the legal system, we are a campaign for justice!"
Join us in celebrating this fantastic event on February the 11th at the local West Indian Sports and Social Club (1.30-5.00; Westwood Street M14 4SW). Local "Patrons" Robert Lizar (long time legal aid lawyer in the area) and Dr Erinma Bell (community activist and prominent justice campaigner) have formally "opened" the Centre, we are very pleased to say that Michael Mansfield (human rights lawyer) will be joining with Maxine Peake (as seen on tv), to start the Party at the WISSC.
In a world where bad news is a daily bulletin, and the poorest and most vulnerable in society seem to sink further and further every day, the law centre offers hope and solidarity where it is most desperately needed.
Visit their website here http://www.gmlaw.org.uk/ to donate or find out more.