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:
(1) To maintain the valuable work of the APPG in providing a forum for the discussion and scrutiny of legal aid issues in Parliament; and
(2) 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, including the Grenfell Tower aftermath and the LASPO review, planned for the coming Autumn months. 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 six months we have met with seventeen 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 original 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 whom members of the public (insert LAA statistic here) 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 corroborating with other interested organisations in rolling out a comprehensive training programme targeted specifically at MPs and their caseworkers.
We will be hosting a law fair style Launch Event in the Atlee Suite of Portcullis House, on Wednesday 1st November with the intention of publicising the work that we and other organisations are doing and the resources already available, together with kicking off a programme of training events around the country aimed at MPs and their casework teams.