In our last column (June 2019 Legal Action
17), we set out our plans for our two-year term as co-chairs of YLAL. Campaigning for a sustainable legal aid scheme is central to our mission. Therefore, we have embarked on an ambitious member-led campaign to ensure that legal aid remains on the political agenda amid the Brexit maelstrom.
#TakeYourMPtoWork is our first big legal aid campaign, which we are running in partnership with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid. The government has committed to piloting early legal advice in one area of law (likely housing) following its review of the legal aid cuts introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.1Post-implementation review of Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), CP 37, MoJ, February 2019 and Legal support: the way ahead, CP 40, MoJ, February 2019.
We are taking MPs to the legal aid front line to show them why comprehensive early legal advice should be brought back into scope.
Social welfare problems are complex and interconnected. For example, housing problems often have their roots in debt or welfare benefits issues. Access to early legal advice often stops problems from escalating, which saves both stress and money.
This campaign builds on our previous efforts to create cross-party support for legal aid. Last year, YLAL worked with Alex Chalk MP on an article on the ConservativeHome blog
calling for the restoration of early legal advice. Our co-chair, Ollie, co-authored an article with Jo Stevens MP for LabourList
making a similar call. Rohini Teather, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group’s head of parliamentary affairs, has been doing sterling work with the APPG to build cross-party support in parliament for legal aid. We have decided to join forces with the APPG to deliver what we think could be YLAL’s biggest-ever campaign.
We strongly believe that the best way for MPs to properly appreciate the value of the legal aid sector is to be immersed in it. When shown first-hand how a legal aid lawyer can stop an individual being unlawfully removed from the country or provide assistance to a vulnerable person navigating the labyrinthine universal credit scheme, anyone can appreciate the value of a properly funded legal aid scheme. That is why our first campaign takes MPs to the legal aid front line: so that they can see the human impact of the legal aid cuts.
More than 50 MPs have signed up to take part in our campaign following tweets and emails from our members and friends in the legal aid community. MPs from across the country and political spectrum have visited, or are due to visit, legal aid firms and law centres, including the new justice secretary, Robert Buckland QC, the new prisons minister, Lucy Frazer QC, the former legal aid minister, Paul Maynard, and shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, as well as Conservatives Bob Blackman and Alex Chalk, Labour’s Jess Phillips, Anna Soubry of the Independent Group for Change, Lib Dem Norman Lamb and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas. We even have peers signed up, including the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti.
We held a campaign launch event in parliament on 15 July 2019 that was attended by dozens of MPs from both sides of the House. From the launch event, it was already clear that the campaign has been making a major difference. Maynard seemed genuinely affected
by his visit to Fylde Coast Advice and Legal Centre:
As an MP, I hear from lots of people about the challenges they face, but having the opportunity to see it with my own eyes and really get to understand the experiences that people within the justice system are having day to day is invaluable.
After his visit to Southwark Law Centre, Burgon commented
Legal aid lawyers and law centres do amazing work defending people’s basic rights. I’m delighted to back the call by @YLALawyers and @APPGLegalAid for the restoration of early legal advice.
Ruth Cadbury visited Ealing Law Centre, where the wonderful staff and volunteers described a recent good outcome for one of her disabled constituents following casework from the law centre’s immigration team. She tweeted after her visit
Law Centres are often the only hope for many caught up with DWP, the Home Office, the housing crisis etc – & often a combination. Yet there’s a woeful shortage of Law Centres & none in @LbofHounslow. Thank for the welcome & the #TakeYourMPtoWork briefing!
We are aiming for 100 MPs to visit the legal aid front line by the time parliament returns after the summer recess. We plan to hold a Westminster Hall debate on the need for comprehensive early legal advice, where MPs can draw on those experiences and consolidate the growing cross-party consensus that restoring early legal advice should be a no-brainer!
If you have not done so already, please tweet your MP and ask them to take part in the #TakeYourMPToWork campaign (remembering to tag @YLALawyers
). If your MP responds, we will follow up with them and arrange their visit to a nearby law centre or legal advice surgery. Further information about the campaign can be found on YLAL’s campaign page