One of the UK’s largest non-profit providers of legal services has gone into administration as a direct result of government cuts to legal aid, it has emerged. The demise of London-based registered charity Law For All has raised fresh questions over the legal aid budget’s £350m reduction, which is predicted to trigger sweeping restrictions on the number of citizens eligible for the service.
At its height, Law For All assisted 15,000 legal aid clients per year, working across the London boroughs of Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow, plus the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Staffordshire. The charity took cases to every level of the court and tribunal systems. However, it revealed in a final statement, recent years had proven extremely difficult. ‘Changes to the administration of publicly funded legal work have resulted in an unsustainable administrative burden,’ it said, ‘[plus] an increasingly complicated funding mechanism – not to mention reduced payments in real terms.
‘These factors,’ it added, ‘combined with current plans by the government to cut legal aid payments by a further 10% this autumn – and to almost completely end legal aid in October 2012 – have led the trustees, reluctantly, to conclude that there is no hope of a viable, long-term future for Law For All.’
As NewLegal Review reported in March, the Judges’ Council of England and Wales has already warned that lawyer numbers in key disciplines are likely to suffer as a result of the cuts. Patrick Tornsey, creator of web-based legal aid advocacy forum iLegal, described Law For All’s closure as ‘staggering’ – and warned non-profit divisions of the legal sector to brace themselves for impact. ‘The fallout will be far reaching,’ he said, ‘not just for their own clients but, given the number of social-welfare law consortia Law For All were involved with, for all their consortium partners across the country. In a number of areas they were the key partner – providing, for example, the Housing element of the [partner consortium’s legal services].’
Founded in 1994 by former local-education director Ulla Barlow and her newly qualified solicitor daughter Anna Barlow, Law For All first set out to provide legal aid to clients in the London Borough of Ealing. After attracting pro bono support from several barristers’ chambers, Law For All took on contract work from the Legal Services Commission and swiftly expanded. By this year, the charity’s staff numbers had reached 70.
Law For All pledged that its ongoing casework would continue to be processed. ‘The administrators have retained a certain number of professional staff in order to deal with the existing open cases on a strict priority basis [and] minimise the impact on the clients retained,’ it said. ‘In the meantime they are liaising with the various work providers to ensure that the cases are being dealt with as expeditiously as possible.’
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Law For All becomes high-profile casualty of slashed legal aid funding