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Labour to create 200-strong army of social welfare lawyers with £18 million training fund

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Corbyn-led government also aims to restore legal aid cuts within first 100 days

Labour has pledged to provide free legal training for 200 social welfare lawyers and create a network of law centres to help “hard-hit” communities defend their rights and secure justice.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon MP committed to creating “a new generation of community lawyers” and “a golden era of law centres”, at the party’s conference in Brighton on Sunday.

On the former, and on the proviso the party gets into power, Labour will plough £18 million into a scheme to fund 200 social welfare lawyers based in law centres or other legal aid providers. They’ll be trained over the course of two years to specialise in matters such as benefits, debt, housing, employment, immigration and asylum.

The party says it will help to build on the success of initiatives already underway, such as the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship scheme.

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A further £20 million will go towards a new network of “people’s law centres”, where members of the community can receive legal support on local issues such as unlawful employment practices. Labour’s plan is part of a broader blueprint that will see it secure existing law centres and boost their provision with extra staff. New law centres will be set up in places such as food banks and health clinics.

“When people lack the money or the knowledge to enforce their rights, those rights are not worth the paper they are written on. We will put an end to that and ensure that justice serves the people, not just a privileged few,” said Burgon. “With a new generation of community lawyers and people’s law centres we’ll help those targeted by the Conservatives’ cuts to fight back, defend their hard-won rights and secure the justice they deserve.”

Burgon also pledged to restore legal aid cuts within the first 100 days of a Corbyn government. This largely concerns early legal help but will extend to debt, employment, immigration and mental health cases. “Labour will help ensure people can challenge the discrimination and abuses of power that they too often face in their everyday lives,” Burgon added.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), was introduced by David Cameron’s Tory government, and has, by and large, been criticised for bringing about cuts to legal aid. The statistics make for grim reading: legal aid expenditure fell from over £2.5 billion in 2005-6 to £1.5 billion in 2017-18, while law centres have reduced in number by 63 to 43 in the same period, and not-for-profit legal advice centres from 3,226 to 1,462.

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