Here is some unsettling news: yet another free legal advice service has shut down. This time it is particularly close to home: the Harehills and Chapeltown Law Centre, in my hometown of Leeds, has fallen victim to the cuts.
The Law Centre has a long history of providing free expert legal advice to the residents of Leeds. Its doors have been open for more than 30 years, with advisors assisting with legal matters ranging from debt, employment, family, housing and immigration to mental health and welfare benefits.
According to the Law Centre representative, cuts to public services have made it difficult for the centre’s team to continue operating. “We are sad and disappointed that the closure leaves people on low or no income in Leeds without an important specialist and local support service,” the statement reads.
The vulnerable and downtrodden, desperately in need of the security, reassurance and long-term financial stability that proper legal advice can provide, have lost access to yet another support service.
The Government’s cuts to legal aid funding already mean that people are finding it more difficult to access the courts and are being denied justice. As Lady Hale noted recently: how can there be a real possibility of going to court to settle matters fairly, if no help is available to the one who cannot afford a lawyer? Lawyers and campaigners for justice have warned the government how cuts in legal aid services will irrevocably damage the justice system.
But for now, the residents of Harehills and Chapeltown are preparing to do without their Law Centre, the most recent casualty of the government’s penny pinching policies.
The Law Centre will operate a managed closure programme and contact those who are affected by this decision. They will write to each client to advise and assist them in the referral of their case to other agencies.