The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has pledged a grant fund of £5.4m to support the not-for-profit legal advice sector during the COVID 19 crisis, of which the Law Centres Network (LCN) will receive £3m of the cash with the rest going to other specialist advice organisations.
Justice minister Alex Chalk MP announced the grant on Monday (4 May 2020). He said in a press statement
that ‘Law Centres and charities in the advice sector play a vital role in helping people access justice and resolve their legal problems’ and that the money will give ‘providers the support they need to boost remote capability and help as many people as possible during these challenging times’. Helen Rogers, LCN’s chair of trustees, said: ‘This support recognises the key role of legal assistance in reducing inequality and bringing justice for all.’
Legal Action understands that the funding is coming from the Treasury and is an addition to the MoJ’s current budget. According to Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, LCN’s head of policy and profile, details of the criteria to qualify for assistance from the fund have yet to worked out, but ‘broadly it will continue to support the work Law Centres already do’.
Ben-Cnaan said Law Centres have been badly hit by the reduction in legal aid work resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. Many of the Centres specialise in housing work, making up nearly a quarter of the providers on the housing duty desks in the county court. There are 41 Law Centres in England and Wales, including 19 in London (four of which are part of South West London Law Centres).
The Access to Justice Foundation will be administering the distribution of the remaining £2.4m, which will be allocated to the Community Justice Fund. This fund is supported by grant-giving charities including The Legal Education Foundation.
LAG’s interim director, Carol Storer, said: ‘We welcome the extra support for Law Centres and other advice services in the charity sector, but the government also needs to provide more assistance to the many legal aid practices and members of the bar who are at risk of leaving the sector due to the COVID-19 crisis.’