Access to justice is a fundamental human right – the foundation of a fair and democratic society, no matter your background.
Yet, according to the Law Society, poverty-hit families are being denied vital help in fighting eviction, tackling severe housing disrepair and addressing other life-changing legal issues.
Last summer, Employment Tribunal fees were scrapped after the Supreme Court ruled that they were an obstruction to justice – however, the excessively restrictive formula that determines whether someone is entitled to civil legal aid remains.
Gotelee is a passionate advocate of protecting access to justice, with a number of our lawyers regularly giving up their time to help those in need for free, and that’s why we were proud to sponsor the opening of the Suffolk Law Centre in Ipswich recently.
The centre, part of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) based in St Matthews Street, will offer legal advice to the county’s residents who can not afford a solicitor.
Suffolk Law Centre was opened by Ipswich MP Sandy Martin last week, and was followed by a reception at Gotelee’s offices in Elm Street.
Audrey Ludwig ISCRE’s director of legal services, said: “Our goal is for Suffolk to no longer be a legal aid desert and we can look the rest of the country in the eye with more pride and confidence than before.
“Until now, through the generosity of volunteer lawyers specialising in a range of areas such as asylum and housing law, we have only been able to offer a few hours of free advice for each person coming to us.
“Now, we plan to do so much more to help some of those Suffolk residents who cannot afford private lawyers, facing legal problems and injustice, including representing them in court.”
The Law Society’s president Joe Egan spoke out earlier this month ahead of a new report, which found that people on incomes 10% to 30% below a minimum living standard are being excluded from legal aid.
The Law Society is calling on the Government to restore the means test to its 2010 real-terms level and to conduct a review to consider what further changes are required to address the problems exposed by this report.
Mr Egan said: “This report is hard evidence that people with less income than they need, some below the poverty line, are unable to get the help that they need through legal aid in order to access justice.
“The position has been getting progressively worse, because the means test thresholds have been frozen since 2010, while the cost of living, of course, has not. Action is long overdue.”
For more information about Suffolk Law Centre visit www.iscre.org.uk