Suffolk Law Centre to open in Ipswich ending county’s ‘Legal Aid desert’
A new law centre is set to open in Suffolk later this month after a hard-fought campaign to make justice more accessible to people of all backgrounds.
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin will formally open the Suffolk Law Centre on Friday, March 23, creating the county’s first dedicated offices focussed on Legal Aid casework to help people who cannot afford a solicitor.
The £40,000 campaign for the centre’s set-up and staffing costs was launched by the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) last summer, after secured a £32,000 Legal Education Foundation grant.
Campaigners wanted to bring an end to Suffolk’s “Legal Aid desert” so people could receive the help needed to on matters such as housing and immigration.
The campaign won support from big names including Mr Martin, Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere, Ian Steward of Refugee Support and more. The Ipswich Star and East Anglian Daily Times supported the campaign. Many law firms donated to it.
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The Suffolk Law Centre will be based at ISCRE’s St Matthews Street offices in Ipswich, but campaigners are keen to ensure it is accessible to people who need it across the whole county..
Audrey Ludwig ISCRE’s director of legal services, said: “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.
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“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.”
Plans are already in place to recruit a practice manager and set up a helpdesk at the Family Court.
Campaigners warned, however, that the long-term future of the Centre still needed to be secured.
Sue Wardell, ISCRE’s business development officer said it costs “about £200,000” per year to finance a law centre, “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,” she added.