Erith law centre ‘faces struggle’ if government cash is cut

10:53 23 February 2012

l to r Kathy Smith CEO, Dee Bahan, Ellen Edwards, Jocelyn Erskine-Kelly, Stephen Young, Sheila Nelson-Durrant, Patrick McNamee

l to r Kathy Smith CEO, Dee Bahan, Ellen Edwards, Jocelyn Erskine-Kelly, Stephen Young, Sheila Nelson-Durrant, Patrick McNamee

Archant

A free legal advice centre in Erith will be under threat if legal aid is cut according to the owners

A free advice service to thousands is ­under threat due to the government’s planned ­legal aid reforms.

Cross Street Law Centre in Erith offers free legal advice to approximately 6,000 residents a year in areas such as employment, housing, debt, discrimination and benefits.

According to the centre, 50 per cent of income comes from legal aid and it claims it will struggle to continue helping people if funding is cut.

Chief executive officer of the centre Kathy Smith is ­critical of the planned Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which is ­being debated by the House of Lords and could see an end to the system.

She said: “We face the ­prospect of the end of legal aid in 2013 which would deprive ­access to justice for a lot of people.”

Miss Smith also tried to ­dispel some myths about who is entitled to legal aid.

She added: “Legal aid is available to people on benefits or those working who are on low ­income – it is a not just for people on benefits.”

The centre believes that if the law is passed there will be no equality in the law and rich people will have an ­advantage.

The right to free legal ­advice for many people in Bexley and the surrounding areas will be removed.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “At more than £2.1billion a year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world which in the current economic climate we just ­cannot afford.

“Our measures target legal aid at the people who need support the most.

“Taxpayers therefore know their money is really helping people, and is not fuelling ­unnecessary ­legal action.”

The centre started as an outreach project linked to Plumstead Community Law Centre in 2000.

It became independent in a move to Thamesmead in 2007 and has occupied its current premises in Erith since 2008.

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