Tuesday, 16 September 2014

[Gallery Post] Walking the Walk for Access to Justice

As someone who believes in access to legal representation and is tearing my hair out that increasing cuts and changes brought on by the government restricting that access, Monday 22nd September is an important day. It marks the 4th annual Bristol Legal Walk to raise both awareness and funds for the South West Legal Support Trust. There are many who cannot afford legal assistance or representation and whilst Legal Aid goes somewhat to addressing that, the trust ensures that such help gets to those who need it. Access to justice is becoming increasingly inaccessible and so I am lending my support by taking part in the walk along with other organisations as well colleagues and members.

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Huybrechts
It seems that much of my life in some form another has revolved around the law; from popular entertainment (Rumpole of the Bailey, ....and Justice for All) to my GCSE and A Level Studies learning about case law, our Legal system as well as making the sort of legal arguments that caused one of my law lecturers to rant red faced at me. It has also been a part of much of my working life working for government departments, insolvency practitioners and for the last eight years at St John's Chamber's working for renowned legal professionals alongside a dedicated team of clerks who work long and hard to keep their charges in work and chambers ticking over. So it's no surprise given the literary, visual and professional influence of the law that I would become a passionate defender of it, particularly the right to representation. The UK legal system does provide a variety of ways to ensure those without the means can obtain legal help. Legal Aid goes much of the way to providing that help but is supplemented by the Access to Justice Foundation. Operating under s.194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 the foundation funds the seven legal support trusts by awarding grants to those that need it. The trusts are also responsible for raising their own funds through donations and fundraising events such as the walk taking place in just under a week's time. As well as donations funds are also collected from pro bono costs and donations from unclaimed balances of client accounts. So who exactly do these trusts support?

Principally the funds are awarded to the trusts by way of a grant who then distribute it to anyone who provides pro bono (free of charge) legal services to those financially disadvantaged. The grants awarded are small, in the region to £250 - £3,000 and will only be awarded in instances where legal aid provision is unavailable or unsuitable. Pro bono assistance can be provided to poor and disadvantage people fighting forced evictions, dealing with asylum and immigration matters, mental health cases, discrimination, education and housing provision. This list is of course not exhaustive and tends to cover most aspect of civil law. Government austerity measures which have seen significant cuts made to the provision of legal aid, a bitter pill made easier to swallow by negative media portrayal of unsavory individuals in receipt of hoards of tax payer money to pay for their legal representation, is placing significant strain on pro bono services. Volunteers who work from overworked and under-resourced organisations such as Law Centres as especially feeling the strain. It is therefore vital that as much support can be garnered for Access to Justice Foundation and the seven trusts it supports. For me personally I am keen to see the South West Legal Support Trust raise as much funds as possible so that poor and disadvantaged people in my home region do not find themselves homeless, helpless and at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords, discriminatory individuals, to name a few. 

To help the cause and make a donation you can visit the St John's Chamber's Fundraising Page by clicking here. (Note this has been updated for the 2015 walk)

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