Brent Community Law Centre (BCLC) has closed, but the Law Centres Network (LCN) hopes it will reopen at some point in the future.
The closure was announced on the LCN’s website last Friday (6 March 2020)
. Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at the LCN, said: ‘Brent’s loss will be felt not just by the local community but by our national network of Law Centres, among whom it was one of the most longstanding members.’
Speaking to Legal Action, LCN director Julie Bishop said it had ‘not been an easy decision’ for BCLC’s board to close the service, but it was the ‘responsible thing to do’ given the level of debt the centre had built up in recent years. She explained that the changes under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 had heralded the start of the centre’s ‘long, slow demise’.
The remaining staff at BCLC were made redundant at the end of January. The sale of the centre’s building was completed the following month. As the centre owned the building, Bishop hopes that the proceeds from the sale can cover its debts with any surplus going towards the re-establishment of a Law Centre service for Brent.
LCN has assisted BCLC’s board in closing the service. Legal Action understands that cases that were ongoing at the time of the closure have been passed on to other firms and agencies. The centre is also receiving help with billing the Legal Aid Agency for completed work.
‘The Law Centre had much support locally, including from the local council,’ Bishop said, but she explained that ‘funders could not be expected to throw good money after bad’ to cover its debts. ‘We don’t see it as lost forever,’ she continued. She hopes that closing the current service in a planned way, rather than allowing it to ‘crash and burn’, will convince funders to back a new venture, as for the Law Centre model to work there needs to be ‘a portfolio of funders’.