Jack Marshall (Student)
The need for free legal advice centers is continually growing, especially in light of cuts in legal aid. Many people cannot afford to instruct a solicitor, so these centers are often a lifeline for the general public. They give specialist advice to members of their community on issues such as debt, housing, family law, employment and education. These clinics use their knowledge to help people to save their homes, keep their jobs and protect their families. This is classed as Social Welfare Law.
In 2019 the Minister of Justice committed to pilot early legal advice as part of its Legal Support Action Plan in hospitals. The Justice Minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar confirmed that the preparation work for this has commenced, such as registration for early legal advice for debt, housing and welfare benefits which will commence later this year. The pilot will be launched in Manchester and Middlesbrough.
When questioned on why there is a need for a pilot Lord Bird Lord Wolfson responded by saying “you need a test to ensure that what you are doing is the most useful thing you can do, we are looking at putting legal advice in Hospitals as we know that people who have legal problems often have other social welfare problems as well”. He also went on to say that “it is often the case that you cannot resolve all your problems through the law you need a holistic approach”. He also said that we need to see hard evidence about this and that the pilot will help in this area. Getting clinics into the NHS will not be easy as in April 2017 the Department of Health issued a ban on personal injury firms advertising in hospitals . The Chief Executive of NHS England quoted that the Health Service wanted “Lawyers out of Hospitals and Doctors out of court”.
Also in the debate there was cause for the Government to restore Legal Aid funding as Labour’s Lord Watts said that “the Government got it really badly wrong when they cut millions of pounds from this area” he also expanded further by saying “would it not be better to restore these cuts and then do a proper review and make sure that, this time, it covers people and gives them some rights?”. Lord Wilson commented that he has no intention of going back to the pre Legal Aid cuts position.
SULAC saw the need for clinics in hospitals when it first launched its service in 2019. Before the pandemic SULAC provided clinics at Shrewsbury hospital, Stafford and Royal Stoke. These clinics were very successful. Following the pandemic SULAC now operates online, and we interview clients on Microsoft Teams. If you have any issues on housing, debt, employment or family and would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk