Latest user statistics show that the demand for Pro Bono legal advice is extremely high.
This is hardly surprising given the cuts to legal aid and justice spending over the last few years. In a withering assessment on the current state of justice funding, the Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC stated: "Justice...by which I mean our prisons, courts, judges, prosecutors and legal aid...has been cut by 27% in real terms – and yet it amounts to just 1% of total spending by the taxpayer. The damage has been reduced only by huge hikes in court fees".
It was alarming to hear that South West London Law Centres (SWLLC), despite having received over 60,000 calls and one million hits on its website, was threatened with closure. They are the biggest law centre in the UK - delivering £2m worth of pro bono advice from 400 volunteer lawyers. In their own words, "because of government cuts, we almost went under".
Lawyers across the UK step up admirably to provide 1,000s of hours of pro bono legal advice.
Our team at Capsticks provides lawyers every week at a Wimbledon advice clinic in partnership with SWLLC. I suspect this sort of partnership with law centres is familiar to many law firms who rely on them to connect the demand for free legal advice with the supply from lawyers willing to advise pro bono.
However, if SWLLC continues to lose funding, their ability to provide the administrative support to us (that is essential for the operation of the Wimbledon clinic) could be in jeopardy and, with it, the entire clinic could cease to operate. The same situation is faced by pro bono law centres across the UK.
With such high demand for free legal advice, the consequences of any dip in the provision of supply of pro bono advice could be catastrophic.
'The numbers contacting the law centre continue to grow as does the demand for our pro bono clinics, where we now have to turn people away as there are more than we can see.'