Headlines: October 28th, 2002

Lawyers, and representatives from local authorities and voluntary groups will today hear details of ground-breaking schemes to improve access to legal advice for poorer people in the south east of England.Rosie Winterton, Minister at the Lord Chancellor’s Department, will address the New Routes to Justice conference in Reading, organised by the region’s Legal Services Committee. The Conference aims to share ideas and encourage initiatives to improve access to quality legal advice and information. The 160 delegates will include representatives from law firms, local councils and organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau, and the Legal Services Commission.

Rosie Winterton will tell them, “While the South East is the most prosperous region in the country it still has 20 per cent of the most deprived wards in the country. For too long poor access to advice has meant that many vulnerable people have suffered either because they have been unable to enforce their legal rights effectively, or have even been unaware of their rights and responsibilities in the first place.”

She is expected to detail how not knowing where to turn to for advice, for example about the condition of their housing or problems paying bills, can make people’s lives increasingly precarious. “This is particularly so, when, as is often the case, a cascade effect emerges, as one unresolved problem leads to the development of others. Ultimately this downward spiral can lead to social marginalisation and exclusion, bringing with it huge cost and misery for individuals and society as a whole”, she will say.

She will highlight the role of Community legal partnerships, 42 of which exist in the south east region, and will draw attention to five projects which are examples of the sorts of improvements that the government wants to see. The Lord Chancellor has set up a Partnership Innovation Budget which has already allocated 15 million pounds to 76 projects across England and Wales.