The All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid (APPG) and Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) held a joint event in parliament
on 15 July to launch their ‘TakeYourMPtoWork’ campaign, which is now in full swing.
Over 35 MPs from across the country are taking part, visiting their local legal advice provider to see their work first hand. Launching the event, Karen Buck MP, chair of the APPG, was upbeat on the campaign’s progress, saying that ‘our aim is to get 100 MPs through doors by early Autumn’ and then to call for a debate in the Autumn. They want ‘to get MPs to experience the front line of APPG services’ and ‘see the impact of LASPO’ for themselves. There is ‘nothing to beat being in someone else’s office’ to understand issues on the ground.
Paul Maynard MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, had visited his local advice centre and spoke warmly of the sector. He said it was important to see how Law Centres dealt with clients with similar issues to those MPs see in their constituencies. He applauded YLAL lawyers for having a ‘clear sense of vocation, and absolute commitment,’ noting that ‘it is not an easy option for anyone’.
‘There is so much creative thinking out there,’ he added, and his department aimed to put together the evidence-based case for spending the funds that are available. While conceding that there had been legal aid cuts, he said the government was still spending £1.6 billion a year. He expressed thanks for ‘all you all do, in a very difficult field’.
Richard Burgon MP, shadow secretary of state for justice, had been to Southwark Law Centre that morning. He stressed the importance of legal aid to communities and why early legal advice is so crucial. ‘Legal aid lawyers are heroes who do such important work’ but ‘recent years have undermined legal aid, and in large parts of the country it is not available for people who really need it’.
He said if elected, Labour would establish early legal aid in family courts and restore legal aid for housing, welfare benefits and immigration (he brought to mind Windrush). He said that the two most important words were ‘thank you’ to everyone, for ‘the work you all do in the most difficult circumstances’ and to YLAL for using the law in its ‘crusade for social justice’.
Annie Lund of City law firm Hogan Lovells echoed the mood of the event by presenting findings from its survey and report on people seeking advice in Lewisham (The unmet legal need in Lewisham,
2018). It demonstrated many needs including the critical importance of early legal advice. YLAL’s Ollie Persey concluded proceedings by saying that 45 MPs across the parties had expressed interest in the campaign, of which 35 had already committed to making visits, and he ‘thanked them all, across the political spectrum’.