Suffolk Law Centre Launch

Suffolk Law Centre: funding campaign successful – but real work starts now

Campaigners are celebrating this week at the news that the long cherished desire to secure a law centre for Suffolk which aims to take on Legal Aid casework, has become a reality.

Thanks to the generosity of many law firms and individuals across the county, the Suffolk Law Centre will be formally opened on 23 March by Ipswich MP, Sandy Martin.

The campaign to raise £40,000 for the initial set up and staffing costs was launched by the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) in the late summer of 2017, after it had secured a £32,000 seed grant from the Legal Education Foundation.

The new offices of the Suffolk Law Centre will be based at ISCRE’s St. Matthews Street offices in the centre of Ipswich, but campaigners are keen to ensure that the centre is seen as being a resource to secure justice for those who can’t afford it regardless as to where they live in the county.

“Our goal is for Suffolk to be no longer a Legal Aid desert and we can look the rest of the country in the eye with more pride and confidence than before” explained Audrey Ludwig ISCRE’s director of legal services.

“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 team behind the Suffolk Law Centre is already progressing plans to resource the facility, including recruiting a practice manager to run the operation and, in due course, setting up a helpdesk at the Family Court for residents to talk through some of their legal issues in a confidential and supportive environment. It is also planning to reach out to the rural areas by collaboration with other partners and harnessing the benefits of IT.

Campaigners warned, however, that the long-term future of the Centre still needed to be secured. According to Sue Wardell, ISCRE’s business development officer “it costs about £200,000 per year to properly finance a law centre, even with all the pro bono support we receive. So although we have a three-year business plan, we still need the ongoing support of the county and the legal profession nationwide to deliver proper access to justice for all.”

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