A Law Centre is a type of not-for-profit legal practice in the United Kingdom which assists people who cannot afford a lawyer. Law Centres are independent and directly accountable to the communities they serve, usually through committees of local people.
Staffed by lawyers and caseworkers, Law Centres help people with civil legal problems such as eviction from their home, exploitation at work, discrimination and exclusion from school. They also seek to tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality in their communities.
Law Centre is a registered trademark.
The Law Centre movement began in the UK in the early 1970s, influenced by the growth of "neighbourhood law offices" in the United States.
Legal aid had been available in the UK since 1949, but there were few legal practices in deprived areas and few lawyers who specialised in the areas of law most relevant to poor and disadvantaged people such as housing and welfare rights.
Law Centres were set up to fill this gap. The first was North Kensington Law Centre which opened in London on 17 July 1970. By the end of the 1970s, there were 27 Law Centres in the UK. By the mid-1980s there were 54, most of which were in urban areas.
Organisation and Funding
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Law Centres are members of the Law Centres Network (trading name of the Law Centres Federation). In Scotland, they are members of the Scottish Association of Law Centres.
As in February 2015, there were 44 Law Centres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The number of Law Centres and their services has been adversely affected by a series of funding cuts from central and local government. In particular, the removal of much of social welfare law from the scope of civil legal aid in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has led to the closure of ten Law Centres, leaving the rest struggling to meet increased demand.
Law Centres are funded by a mix of legal aid contracts, local authority funding, and corporate and charitable donations.
Law Centres specialise in the areas of civil law most relevant to disadvantaged communities. In the UK, these include community care, debt, discrimination, education, employment, housing, family, immigration and asylum, mental health and welfare rights.
Law Centres offer specialist legal advice, casework and representation in these areas of law. They tailor their services to the needs of each person or group they help, and so often assist them with several legal problems at once.
Law Centres help over 120,000 people every year with problems such as eviction, unfair dismissal, discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, and the wrongful withdrawal of their welfare benefits.
The Law Centres Federation commissioned research on the Socio-Economic Value of Law Centres which showed that for every £1 spent by Law Centres on a typical housing case, an estimated £10 of “social value” is created through benefits to the local community and savings to government. Other, non-quantifiable benefits are also yielded, like preventing case escalation, empowering individuals and preventing exclusion. Other research relevant to Law Centres’ work includes Time Well Spent and Rights within Reach.
Law Centres also seek to tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality. They do this by spotting trends in the needs of their communities and responding by raising awareness about legal rights, supporting community groups and influencing policy locally and nationally.
Law Centres also pursue test cases to the highest courts if necessary. For example, Sheffield Law Centre helped a young disabled man to win a case in the Court of Appeal in November 2009 which established that building works could be ordered under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The Law Centres Network supports, develops and champions the Law Centres.
Current UK Law Centres
England & Wales
- Avon and Bristol Law Centre
- Birmingham Community Law Centre
- Bradford Law Centre
- Brent Community Law Centre
- Bury Law Centre
- Cambridge House Law Centre
- Camden Community Law Centre
- Cardiff Law Centre
- Central London Law Centre
- Coventry Law Centre
- Croydon Law Centre (part of South West London Law Centre)
- Cumbria Law Centre
- Derby Citizens Advice and Law Centre
- Derbyshire Law Centre (formerly Chesterfield Law Centre)
- Ealing Law Centre
- Gloucester Law Centre
- Hackney Community Law Centre
- Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre
- Haringey Law Centre
- Harrow Law Centre
- Hillingdon Law Centre
- Isle of Wight Law Centre
- Islington Law Centre
- Kingston & Richmond Law Centre (part of South West London Law Centre)
- Kirklees Law Centre
- Lambeth Law Centre
- Luton Law Centre
- Merton & Sutton Law Centre (part of South West London Law Centre)
- Newcastle Law Centre
- North Kensington Law Centre
- Nottingham Law Centre
- Paddington Law Centre
- Plumstead Community Law Centre
- Rochdale Law Centre
- Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre
- South West London Law Centre
- Southwark Law Centre
- Springfield Law Centre
- Surrey Law Centre
- Tower Hamlets Law Centre
- Vauxhall Community Law and Information Centre
- Wandsworth Law Centre (part of South West London Law Centre)
- Wiltshire Law Centre
- Castlemilk Law & Money Advice Centre
- CL@N Child Law Centre
- Drumchapel Law & Money Advice Centre
- Dundee Law Centre
- East End Community Law Centre
- Environmental Law Centre Scotland
- Ethnic Minorities Law Centre
- Govan Law Centre
- Govanhill Law Centre, Fife Law Centre
- Legal Services Agency
- Renfrewshire Law Centre (formerly Paisley Law Centre)
- Law Centres Federation, Annual Report 09/10, p.1
- Law Centres Federation, Significant Dates in the History of Law Centres, 2009.
- Law Centres Federation, Annual Report 09/10
- "Campaign to fight legal aid cuts". The Guardian. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
- "Court of Appeal upholds landmark disability access case". Law centres Federation. Archived from the original on 23 Jan 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
-  Law Centres Network website.