UPDATE: Legal aid cuts force Erith Law Centre to close as 'Grayling Day' leaves courts empty (From News Shopper)
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UPDATE: Legal aid cuts force Erith Law Centre to close as 'Grayling Day' leaves courts empty
The Ministry of Justice has told News Shopper it has "no choice" but to cut legal aid as an Erith law centre is forced to close this month.
The CEO of the service in Cross Street, Kathy Smith, said people are still knocking on the centre's doors and saying they have “nowhere else to go” for legal advice.
It is feared government cuts will force many other legal firms to close however the Ministry of Justice has told News Shopper there are "tough decisions" to be made.
Proposed savings of around £220m has prompted many legal professionals to join a mass walk out, known as 'Grayling Day', on Friday (MARCH 7).
This day of action will leave courtrooms empty across the country.
Kathy Smith, who runs the Cross Law Centre, said: “I’m not taking part in the planned demonstration on Friday just because I’ll be too busy packing up my boxes.
“The legal aid changes from the government are going to affect many thousands and thousands of people.
“It’s really sad – we’ve had people knocking on our door and tell us, ‘we’ve got nowhere else to go’.
“There’s the Citizens Advice Bureau but it does not offer specialist legal advice."
She added: “The nearest place for that is Plumstead and they won’t take Bexley residents.”
The service opened in 2006 and has served around 1,500 clients a year.
Ministry of Justice response
A Ministry of Justice spokesman told News Shopper: "We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world at around £2 billion every year.
"We make tough decisions in reforming legal aid to make the savings we have no choice but to find.
"This government is very clear the advice sector has an important contribution to make, but sadly cannot escape the tough decisions having to be made.
"That's why we have provided around £150million in additional funding since 2010 specifically to support the not for profit sector, such as Shelter, Citizens Advice Bureau and Law Centres, to help them to adapt and transition to the current funding climate.
"Legal aid is a vital part of our justice system but we must ensure it is sustainable for those who need it, for those who provide legal services as part of it and for the taxpayer, who ultimately pays for it."
The government is keen to ensure there is not too much disruption to the court system on Friday.
The spokesman said: "Agencies involved in the criminal justice system are taking steps to minimise any upset Friday’s court disruption could cause for victims and witnesses involved in trials."
Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce told News Shopper in January the closure was a “tragedy”.
She said: “The staff are exceptional and have been trying to keep the law centre open on a shoestring.
"But it seems with the funding cuts they will have no option but to close their doors leaving many, many people without access to legal advice and therefore without access to justice.”
Are you a legal professional from the News Shopper patch taking part in the day of action on Friday?
Call the newsdesk on 01689 885 721 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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