In August 2016 the Legal Education Foundation provided the LAPG, as Joint Secretariat of the APPG on Legal Aid along with Young Legal Aid Lawyers, with a 24 month grant (the “LEF Grant”).
The LEF Grant has two primary objectives:
- To maintain the valuable work of the APPG in providing a forum for the discussion and scrutiny of legal aid issues in Parliament; and
- To extend the reach of the APPG engaging MPs and Councillors across England and Wales directly (together with their casework staff) to improve their understanding of the legal aid system and the availability of legal aid across England and Wales.
The LEF Grant has enabled us to recruit two part-time Project Workers, Rohini Teather and Christine Peace to work with us in delivering this project. The APPG in turn, has grown in membership and with more Parliamentarians across the parties attending meetings than ever before we have a range of topical meetings designed to bring the interested parties together and to encourage debate.. We have started a regular bulletin to our members keeping them abreast of developments in the legal aid sector and we are continually seeking ways to engage with more MPs and Councillors on these issues.
Over the past nine months we have engaged with nearly thirty MPs and their Casework staff all over the country and from both the Conservative and Labour parties, together with over thirty local authority Councillors, with more to follow. Our intention in doing so was to see the effects of the LASPO cuts on MP surgeries for ourselves and to build up a clearer picture of who members of the public were turning to.
In the Young Legal Aid Lawyers Report Young Legal Aid Lawyers, “Nowhere else to turn: The impact of legal aid cuts on MPs’ ability to help their constituents (March 2012)” they found that “constituents frequently turn to MPs as a last resort when they have been unable to resolve their legal problems. As a result, MPs devote a significant amount of their time and resources to assisting their constituents in resolving their problems.” Our meetings and work with MPs and their caseworkers corroborated these findings. The general trend that were being reported was that there had been an increase in the volume and complexity of the cases that they were encountering in the last few years and that training would be very helpful to MPs and their caseworkers on key legal issues such as availability of legal aid, housing law, welfare benefits, immigration and disability.
This led to an evolution of the project and the APPG on Legal Aid is now actively collaborating with other interested organisations in rolling out a comprehensive training programme targeted specifically at MPs and their caseworkers.
Recent research found that 89 per cent of constituent appointments at MPs' surgeries related to a legal issue, and many of the caseworkers that we have spoken to responded positively to our offer of training and to signpost resources to them that will assist with their casework. On Wednesday 1st November 2017, the APPG hosted a law fair style event in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House, with the intention of publicising the work that we and other organisations are doing and the resources already available and kicking off a programme of training events around the country aimed at MPs and their casework teams.
The Reception was introduced by Karen Buck MP, Chair of the APPG on Legal Aid, Yvonne Fovargue MP, Vice-Chair of the APPG on Legal Aid and Alex Chalk MP, Chair of the APPG on Pro Bono and Public Legal Education and Vice-Chair of the APPG on Legal Aid. The speakers all spoke passionately about the wonderful work that their caseworkers did among their constituents and welcomed both the training and resource initiatives. All in all, the event was a resounding success with over fifty caseworkers signing up for training in Westminster and in their local communities.
In December 2017, we rolled out our free pilot training programme for MPs and their caseworkers in Westminster. The course was designed in collaboration with a number of organisations, including Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA), Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), Luqmani Thompson & Partners and LawWorks. Initial feedback from the caseworkers and MPs in attendance has been extremely positive and while the first stage was London based, we are rolling out the delivery of these courses at a national level in the coming months.
The first of these courses to be rolled out nationally are:-
- Identifying Legal Issues
- Introduction to Legal Aid
- Immigration and Asylum
The first of these events will be An Introduction to Legal Aid: an interactive session with Matthew Howgate of DG Legal in Reception Room B, Sheffield Town Hall Friday 2nd March 2018 2.30-4.30pm and 5.00-7.00 The aim of the training is to ensure that Councillors and MPs are aware of the availability of Legal Aid for the issues that their constituents may approach them about.