By Callum MacRae
This Saturday (Feb 11th), will see the official opening of the new Greater Manchester Law Centre – a community centre for central Manchester offering free and independent legal advice and representation to the city’s inhabitants. The official opening at the shop front on Princess Road at 1pm will be followed by a public celebration at the West Indian Sports and Social Club, both in Moss Side.
The GM Law Centre was founded by lawyers, trade unionists and community advice organisations in response to Government legal aid cuts, which have seen nine law centres in all ten Greater Manchester boroughs reduced to just two, in Bury and Rochdale. Since the forced closure of the South Manchester Law Centre in 2014, in the face of significant local protest, there has been no law centre in Central Manchester, Trafford, Salford or South Manchester.
In the words of the Law Centre’s organising team ‘Legal aid has been cut and cut again. The Government wants to prevent access to justice and does so most effectively by removing the advice agencies that can deliver access to those most in need. Government says internet or telephone is enough to meet the advice needs of people in poverty and vulnerability; when advisers know full well that complex welfare rights and benefits, amongst other issues, demand walk-in, face-to-face advice in person, and professional legal representation.’
The new Law Centre has set up welfare rights services, challenging negative Employment Support Allowance, and Personal Independent Payment decisions by the DWP, and has gained the support of lawyers, North West TUC and local trade union branches, local community groups and all five Greater Manchester University Law Schools – whose law students are starting to represent people at tribunals.
“We are not just a law centre, but a campaign – for law centres generally” explains John Nicholson, Chair of the GM Law Centre, “we are not just providing a bit of service delivery on the lines of food banks, though that is important – we are a campaign for properly funded legal aid.”
“We are fighting for a new generation of publicly funded social welfare lawyers” he adds. “While it is great to get so much support from pro bono volunteers, we are not just here to mask the severity of cuts and closures. We are not an isolated organisation, competing with others for the crumbs of statutory sector funding; we want to campaign with others for more for all of us. And we do not just want access to the legal system, we are a campaign for justice!”
All are welcome to both the official opening and the public celebration at the West Indian Sports and Social Club, where patrons Maxine Peake and Michael Mansfield QC will be present. The celebration will include food, live music, spoken word poetry, DJs, and activities for children.
The Greater Manchester Law Centre will be at 159 Princess Road, Moss Side, M14 4RE. The West Indian Sports and Social Club is at Westwood Street, M14 4SW.