Save South Manchester Law Centre!

smlcManchester FRFI is supporting the campaign to Save South Manchester Law Centre (SMLC).  On 25 October 120 people, mainly migrant workers, attended a packed campaign meeting at the Pakistani Community Centre in Longsight, Manchester. This was the third public meeting since the decision of the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to reduce funding to the Law Centre to deliver special legal services in asylum, immigration and human rights to vulnerable members of an impoverished community.

SMLC has been providing free legal advice for 35 years and is now under serious threat of closure.  On top of the cuts in immigration law funding, Manchester City Council is cutting funding to the Law Centre for housing, welfare, employment, and domestic violence and women's rights advice services. SMLC has already lost five of its 15 staff and has only weeks of funding left.

Local Labour MP Gerald Kaufman is supporting the campaign and putting himself forward as a radical anti-deportation fighter, although he refused to help the Defend Eucharia and Timeyi Campaign which was based in Gorton, Manchester and which was successful in preventing the deportation of the family in 2007.  Kaufman told the meeting that the latest decision to cut funding was down to the current government, not the local Labour-run City Council: ‘it isn't the decision of the council, they are following orders of the government...if asked by the campaign, I will launch a debate in the House of Commons…Cuts should be seen in context of very well off people attacking the poor'.

Kaufman was right about the rich attacking the poor, but he was covering up the role of the Labour council, and directly contradicting the SMLC campaign's press releases which clearly state that it was a decision of the council to cut funding.
The cuts in legal aid funding are not a result of the ‘Tory cuts’, they are a direct result of policies implemented by the previous Labour government.

Legal aid cost-cutting measures brought in by Labour forced law firms and advice services to bid for contracts. Nine organisations in Greater Manchester bid for immigration and asylum legal aid contracts for 2010-2013. Eight of them, including SMLC, scored equally in the assessment. The ninth, Immigration Advisory Service (IAS), scored one point more and was awarded 80% of the cases allocated to the entire region with the other eight organisations having to share the remaining cases between them.  This made the majority financially unviable.

There had already been two public meetings on 29 September and 7 October 2010, and a march to the town hall of hundreds of people protesting against the cuts.  On 8 November SMLC was granted permission by the High Court to judicially review the LSC case allocation.  The full hearing will take place in January 2011.

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) is also facing a 70% cut in its funding.  Law centres across the country are at risk of closure and with the poor suffering the most as they can afford no alternatives.  National immigration law advice charity Refugee and Migrant Justice was forced into administration earlier this year, with 336 staff losing their jobs and 10,000 clients left high and dry with no legal advice.

FRFI has a long history of active support for struggles against deportation; in Manchester this includes such cases from Nasira Begum, Anwar Ditta and Viraj Mendis in the 1980s to recent campaigns, such as that for Eucharia Jakpa.  Supporting campaigns against deportation includes defending access to independent, free legal advice and assistance.

Support the campaign to save South Manchester Law Centre!

For more information see

Charles Chinweizu


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