A group of councils in the North East have begun piloting a community legal service – soon to be the norm across the country.Northumberland, Darlington and Hartlepool are all ‘associate pioneers’ – local authorities who are piloting partnership agreements with the Legal Aid Board, and local solicitors.
The scheme has been highlighted by The Lord Chancellor’s Department and further authorities have been urged to join in.
The aim is that Community Legal Services will give members of the public much better access to good quality legal advice so that they can resolve the most common minor legal disputes, such as debt problems, housing or entitlement to benefits. These have not been traditional areas of legal aid spending.
Local partnerships would help set local priorities to ensure funds were directed at the areas of greatest legal need. There will be a CLS ‘Quality Mark’ to ensure that money only goes to legal advisers who can provide good quality advice and information. An internet gateway site will be established to give people direct access to good practical information for a range of legal and related issues, and signposts to organisations who can offer help.