Access to justice is a basic human right – one that shouldn’t be determined by a person’s financial situation. The ability to receive quality and timely legal advice can profoundly improve an individual or a family’s life, helping to manage problems such as debt, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, and discrimination. However, it’s becoming more and more difficult for society’s most vulnerable to access the state-funded legal advice they urgently need.
To create awareness of these issues and help raise funds for free legal services at the frontline, Obelisk Support are walking alongside the Lord Chief Justice and thousands of lawyers in the London Legal Walk on Tuesday 13th June. Funds raised through the London Legal Walk and other events allow the London Legal Support Trust to assist over 100 organisations in London and the South East each year that provide people with fair access to justice.
This isn’t just about fundraising; it’s about standing up for what we believe in. For more insight into why we are adding our steps to the collective effort this year, we asked some of the ‘The Obelisk Walkers’ to share their thoughts.
What inspires you to join in the London Legal Walk?
“I will be walking for refugees who are struggling through our ever more complicated and overwhelming legal system. Although we might be experiencing media fatigue, the plight of refugees is a humanitarian crisis that is, if anything, getting worse. Now more than ever, legal aid is crucial for the charities and organisation that help refugees with legal assistance. This helps them understand the legal system and their rights, obtain legal protection, and access the resources and services they need to rebuild their lives in their new country.” – Daniela Garcia
“The more people that participate, the bigger the event will be, which means more coverage and awareness for this worthy cause. Legal access is really important for a functioning and just democracy.” – Flavia Azevedo
“The London Legal Walk does a fantastic job of bringing the wider legal community together in the name of an excellent cause. I hope to raise as much money as possible, given the cost of living crisis and thus the growing need for free legal help.” – Dan Ionta
“Apart from being a fantastic walk through the city, it’s a great buzz to see hundreds of people literally stepping out to care about others.” – Haidee Stephens
How do you hope to make a difference?
“My goal is to raise as much money as possible. But I will also be happy to just remind people that the problem still exists. Changes to the asylum system and the new points-based system for immigration are just making it more difficult for those most vulnerable to receive the support they need. In a society where we our constant topic of interest is inclusivity and diversity, we must remember that this doesn’t only apply at the work place, but also in our ever-evolving community.” – Daniela Garcia
“I hope to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion. I’m also looking forward to meeting different people in the profession along the way, and hearing their stories.” – Reef Moghul
“Any funds raised will make a difference. This year, it feels as if the need is greater than ever.” – Jane Leader
How are you preparing to take on 10km?
“I’m a big walker anyway, as we have a dog; but as I live outside of London and primarily work remotely, I’m especially excited to catch up with my team and take in some of London’s sights along the way.” – Jane Leader
“Extra walks and longer sessions at the gym have been helping me prepare for this year, as we have a tendency to also take touristic detours during the walk, which can make the walk much longer.” – Daniela Garcia
“I will make sure I have an umbrella to hand, as one can never predict the British weather!” – Dan Ionta
“Clearly, I have been walking 10km every morning… No, I shall be bringing up the rear as a slow walker who likes to look around.” – Haidee Stephens
Understanding why justice is more difficult to access
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which came into force in April 2013, brought about immediate sweeping changes, restricting the scope of legal aid. After this legislative move, the number of legal aid cases providing people with essential early advice plummeted from nearly a million in 2009/10 to a mere 130,000 in 2021/22.
Over the same period, the number of people forced to go to court without a lawyer tripled. After the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the crisis, a steep increase in the cost of living pushed even more people into poverty, creating a bigger demand for advice services. However, the number of advice agencies and law centres providing free support has fallen by as much as 59%.
A legal aid review is underway, but we can’t afford to wait
The shrinking availability of legal aid is a pressing issue. While the government’s initiation of a Civil Legal Aid Review in 2023 is a positive step, Lubna Shuja, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, emphasised the need for immediate action in a recent statement:
“We have long called for a review of civil legal aid sustainability, so we are pleased the government launched its review earlier this year. However, that review won’t report its findings until 2024. We are unlikely to see any significant changes until at least 2025. This is too long as services are collapsing now. People cannot afford to wait until 2024 for investment. If we want to ensure that support is available immediately for those who need it in these turbulent times, action is needed now.”