Community Justice Fund grants hit £6m in four months

Islington Law Centre: £200,000 grant

The Community Justice Fund (CJF) has now handed out more than £6m in grants since it was set up in May to support not-for-profit legal advice providers through the pandemic.

Some 106 charities have received grants to date, and the ceiling on awards – which was originally £75,00 – has since gone up substantially, with Central England Law Centre, the largest law centre in the UK, received a grant of almost £220,000.

Islington Law Centre in North London, one of the best known, was awarded a grant of £200,000.

The CJF is a joint initiative by the Access to Justice Foundation and five other social welfare funders – Therium Access, the Legal Education Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, AB Charitable Trust and Indigo Trust.

It received initial grants of £2.4m from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and £1.6m from the funder group. The National Lottery Community Fund gave a further £5m last month.

The funding pot is £11m in all when the £3m of government money that went to the Law Centres Network is included.

Many law centres have reported big reductions in income from legal aid since being forced to close their doors earlier this year.

The Central England Law Centre, based in Birmingham and Coventry, said that along with making up for the shortfall from legal aid, it would use its grant to make sure its offices met government Covid-19 guidelines when they reopened and improve arrangements for remote working.

Islington Law Centre said it had legal aid contracts in housing, immigration and public law but expected to lose “a substantial amount” in legal aid income this year due to the impact of lockdown.

The CJF awarded a third large grant of almost £158,000 to the Children’s Law Centre (Northern Ireland), a charity which deals with over 3,000 child-related legal issues every year.

The law centre said that, among other things, it would use the money to invest in IT and facilitate a phased return to the office.

Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre in Yorkshire received a grant of £109,500.

The centre said the grant would enable them to retain its specialist legal aid staff and services “for the long-term”, as well do what it could during the crisis period.

The grant will also be used to cover the costs of setting up an employment casework service “at this much-needed time”.

Further grants from the CJF were awarded to Hammersmith and Fulham Community Law Centre, which received £95,000, Law Centre NI (Northern Ireland), which received £84,700 and Greenwich Housing Rights, which received £75,000.

The Community Law Service (Northampton and County) and the Mary Ward Legal Centre in London were also awarded £75,000.

National charities also received grants from the CJS, such as the Free Representation Unit, which specialises in social security and employment tribunals and the Disability Law Service, both awarded £75,000.

Separately in Wales, LawWorks Cymru has been awarded a grant of over £400,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund.

LawWorks, the operating name of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group, said it would use the money to launch a “new phase” of its work over the next five years, expanding its network of clinics, with a focus on health care and community mental health.

Over the last three years, eight clinics have been established, the number of volunteers has doubled and the number of clients receiving free legal advice and support now exceeds 7,000.

Also last month, the MoJ said it was giving a £3.1m grant to enhance support for litigants in person, in an initiative it is delivering together with the Access to Justice Foundation.

However, this just restated an announcement made in February 2019 as part of the legal support action plan released after the review of LASPO.

It said £500,000 had already been given to charities at a national level:

  • Support Through Court and RCJ Advice, which are partnering to expand the former’s national telephone helpline to include the addition of new family referral routes into RCJ Advice, as well as piloting a new remote support initiative;
  • LawWorks, which will scale up its Free Legal Answers website service, which enables people on low incomes and not eligible for legal aid to access free, initial legal advice by describing their issue, or asking direct questions; and
  • Law for Life, which will expand its Advicenow website, including to help people appear in the virtual court effectively, and will also undertake research to expand understanding of digital and legal capability.

A further £2m from the programme will be awarded to smaller not-for-profit organisations at regional and local levels in the autumn.

“Distribution of this funding has been moved back in order to give those organisations more time to manage the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and put together proposals,” the MoJ said.

In the meantime, around £270,000 of the grant programme has been diverted for emergency support to Citizens Advice Devon, Norfolk Community Law Services, Citizens Advice Middlesbrough and Citizens Advice North Lancashire, to help them deal with Covid-19 demand from litigants in person.

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