2017-10-06 Legal Aid Centre

Until 1948 if you or your children were sick, or had an accident, and you needed medical attention, you had to pay for it. Some people had medical insurance, but many couldn’t afford it. If it was an emergency and you were lucky there might be a doctor or a charity hospital that would provide you with care “pro bono” – for the common good. But to a large extent the common good did not exist – medical care for the poor, and even the averagely well-off, was patchy or non-existent. There was a lot of resistance to the founding of the National Health Service, in particular from the Conservative Party who said our country couldn’t afford it – I believe the overwhelming consensus now is that we couldn’t afford NOT to have it.

Prior to the 1870 Education Act the situation was very similar for our schools. Most children in England prior to 1870 got no education at all, or a very rudimentary one. And even after this and subsequent education acts the level of education, and the length of time you received it, depended very much on wealth and class. It was only during the Harold Wilson government that (200) we introduced comprehensive secondary education, where the majority of children were at last no longer “failed” at the age of 11 and relegated to a second-rate education. Labour believes we still have a long way to go on this – education should not be dependent on wealth and class, and that includes pre-schools, early years education and colleges, training colleges and universities as well. That is why we will fund pre-schools and nurseries properly to deliver free sessions to all, and make universities free for all with a maintenance grant too, with equivalent support for vocational studies as well.

But if there is a sense of natural justice about health and education being equally accessible to all, surely that natural justice becomes all the more obvious when we consider access to justice itself. The phrase “one law for the rich and another law for the poor” is all too true even today. Thank goodness we have a public police force and an independent judiciary – the fundamental building blocks for equal justice for all are certainly there. But while there is a degree of equality for those accused of a criminal offence – not absolute equality, but at least some semblance of it – for those seeking to obtain justice, for instance for unfair dismissal, or harassment at work, or discrimination on the grounds of disability, the situation is dismal. For the last 7 years the government has cut back funding for the Citizens Advice Bureaux, has reduced the availability of legal aid and has attempted (unsuccessfully I am glad to say) to abolish any legal support for employment tribunals.

I want to see a proper National Legal Service, taking the whole area of personal law out of the market place and putting it on the same financial footing as the National Health Service. I don’t think anyone could seriously mount a defence of the idea that you should be able to buy justice.

But until that happens, we desperately need an organisation locally that will fill the vacuum, and enable all those local lawyers who are so generously willing to give their time pro bono – just as the most dedicated doctors were prior to 1948 – to be as effective as they want to be and to enable the cases that they need to help to be allocated to them. That organisation is A Law Centre for Suffolk. There is currently a legal aid “desert” in our County and we need a properly set-up Law Centre to fill the current gaps. ISCRE, which is not politically aligned, and other organisations have been dedicated in their efforts to help those who have no other recourse to justice, but the time has come to have a fully-accredited body.

There will be grant funding available, but we need to raise a substantial part of those funds ourselves, through Crowdfunding. I support this campaign and I know the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star support it too. If you want local people to have better access to justice when then go to


Please do contribute – even a pound will help. As importantly, spread the word on social media, especially https://www.facebook.com/SuffolkLawCentreSteering/

Many ordinary people simply cannot afford to pay for a lawyer when something goes wrong, causing stress and uncertainty. This is why we are creating a Law Centre for Suffolk. Why not join us.