Post by Colin Henderson on Apr 10, 2012 9:48:10 GMT
Readers will recall the fall-out of the the restructuring of advice services in Manchster in 2010/11. Following a tender process a large multi-centre CLAC was formed based around the CAB with other partners. The various other advice agencies in the city lost their council funding and subsequently their in-house service Manchester Advice was wound down. See this thread for background: ilegal.org.uk/index.cgi?action=display&board=archivebidround&thread=1282&page=1
This funding cut threatened the viability of the two law centres in Manchester. I understand Wythenshawe law centre has survived so far but don't know more as they have kept a low profile. South Manchester on the other hand has been in the news with their campaigning
SMLC have survived as a specialist immigration and asylum provider, augmenting their LSC contract with another giving advice to women and also fee-charging work. But up to October last year they were still funded to give free advice in this category by the Council and have now decided to issue a JR of the way this funding was discontinued. This from their website last week:
"South Manchester Law Centre opened in 1976 and has been funded by Manchester City Council since that time. This funding was for the Law Centre to provide marginalised and vulnerable members of the local community with high quality free advice by experienced caseworkers in person or on the phone. The Law Centre is the only organisation in the whole of Manchester to provide this high quality free immigration phone advice.
The quality of the advice is recognised by the council who have stated that the Law Centre: "has a national reputation for expertise in this area of law, not only providing expert casework but social policy evidence to campaign for changes in the legislation and practice in dealing with immigration and asylum issues’. The Council also recognised that without this free advice people would end up ‘paying high fees for poor quality immigration and nationality advice."
We are still providing this service despite not having received any money from the Council to do so since October 2010. The Council started meeting with the Law Centre in September 2010, a month before, to look at continuing funding. In October 2011, however, the Law Centre was suddenly told that there was no money to fund this service.
The Council has not responded to our request for details of the process by which this decision was made. The Law Centre has never been told, for example, when the decision was made or who made the decision. We have been given no explanation why an organisation with a national reputation should no longer receive funding. The Council have also not considered the effects of this decision on the BME community, who are the majority of our service users, and will, by the Council’s own analysis, be forced to pay high fees for low quality advice.
The Law Centre is challenging, by a Judicial Review, the refusal by the Council to provide funding, to allow us to continue providing free person to person and phone advice. We are challenging the process by which the decision was made, the lack of clarity and transparency in the reasons for the decision and the lack of consideration of the effects of the decision on the BME community. The Council is paying a Barrister from London to fight their case. The Law Centre is being represented by local Barristers from Kenworthy’s Chambers. These barristers are offering their services free because of their concern about the effects of the decision on Manchester residents.
We urge people to show their support for the Law Centre and opposition to Manchester City Council’s decision by attending the hearing on the 24th April. There will be a protest at 9:30am outside the Civil Justice Centre on Bridge Street, Manchester. Please then attend the hearing inside the Civil Justice Centre which is due to start at 10:30am."
Post by Colin Henderson on Apr 28, 2012 22:38:59 GMT
Well done to SMLC as they have succeeded at the permission stage of their JR. Here is how the Manchester Mule reports it:
"South Manchester Law Centre has won its right to a judicial review of Manchester City Council’s decision to end funding for specialist immigration advice described by the judge as “unique”.
It was standing room only in Manchester’s Civil Justice Centre as almost 100 supporters and users of the service crowded into the courtroom on Tuesday 24 April to hear the verdict given by the judge, Mr Justice Foskett, as to whether the law centre can challenge the council over the fairness and legality of its funding cut.
In the hearing the judge ruled that the centre, which lost cash when the council failed to renew its contract for providing high level immigration advice in October 2010, had an “arguable” case that the funding process “was not treated fairly”. The law centre can now take its fight to the courts for judicial review at a later date.
In his judgement Mr Foskett noted the centre’s “high reputation” as a provider of legal advice in an area with an “overwhelming demand” for its services for people who were “plainly amongst the most vulnerable”. Although he admitted that he “had never seen anything like” the number of people listening intently to the ruling, he cautioned that legal verdicts were “not decided by the counting of heads”.
At a vigil held outside the court Sofia Kalu, a management member of Women Asylum Seekers Together, pointed out how past legal aid cuts had frequently left people queuing from 6am outside the city’s surviving advice centres with some still being turned away because “the caseload is too much”. A volunteer at the law centre, Sonia Wilson, also claimed there was “a dire need for it in the area”, saying “if this goes down, where are people going to go?”
Over the course of the morning’s session the court heard how the law centre had first lost council funding in October 2010 following the expiration of its latest contract to deliver high level immigration advice. The judge noted how the centre had been encouraged to put together a business plan for a new bid when the first contract expired but had not been informed until October 2011, after pressure on the council from local councillors, that there was no money available.
Acting pro bono on behalf of the centre, barrister Mr George Brown said they had been “left in the dark as to when the decision was made to not continue a service which was provided for 35 years. We’re still in the dark.”
Opposing this view, the council said the law centre could have had no legitimate expectation that they were in a formal bidding process, with defence barrister Mr Hickman arguing “there was no right to an extension of the contract” and “no right to retender”. Mr Hickman explained that the council itself was hit by the government’s own funding cuts shortly after the law centre’s contract expired, and that the “much deeper cuts than had been expected” left the local authority in no position to supply “additional expenditure” to the centre by singing a new contract.
While the judge made clear he was not ruling on who was right or wrong in the dispute itself, in granting permission for judicial review he said the core complaint that “the council did not consider lawfully or at all the bid” was capable of being argued. He also said more information about the key decision to not fund the centre at the heart of the case would have to be filed “with candour” when it came to judicial review. “The law centre is manned by responsible people” who would “no doubt” do that, he noted, and said the council “may wish” to do the same." Rest at: manchestermule.com/article/law-centre-wins-right-to-day-in-court-against-council