Croydon law centre celebrated for making justice accessible

A Croydon law centre was celebrated for excellence in providing fair and equal access to justice yesterday.

South West London Law Centres (SWLLC) was highly commended in the “Excellence in Access to Justice” category of the Law Society Awards, for going the extra mile to ensure those most at risk are not excluded from the UK legal system.

Last year SWLLC, a not for profit centre, provided services to 5,802 people, including saving 80% of households from eviction in court.

Patrick Marples, 54, SWLLC CEO said: “The Law Centre is a really special place to work, with a huge group of really tenacious and talented people who support many, many people facing incredible difficulties. 

“Too often people don’t really think that the law can intervene and help people to improve their lives, far too often many barriers are put in place of people accessing the law, and their legal rights.”

Over the pandemic, the SWLLC had to adapt their way of working – from meeting clients in car parks to providing the technology necessary for online court hearings.

Marples added: “I’ve been working in the advice sector for 30 years. We have never coped with this level of demand, ever. 

“One of the problems we had at the beginning of Covid was that we’d lost many of our volunteers. Because of having to work remotely, we didn’t have the resources or systems in place to maintain our volunteer base.

“There were many more inquiries and some of the demographics of those changed, so many more people who wouldn’t have previously accessed the Law Centre were seeking advice.”

SWLLC was formed in 2004, combining centres in Croydon, Merton, Kingston, Sutton, Richmond and Wandsworth to provide access to legal support regardless of income.

Their free legal clinics from volunteer lawyers have provided advice worth £2 million to south west London residents, with more than 3,000 accessing these online last year.

The centre have also recently launched a Crisis Navigation service, aimed at helping clients navigate the benefits system and access grants.

Beaten to the prize by Tottenham’s Wilson Solicitors LLP, judges from the Law society said of SWLLC: “South West London Law Centres impressed the judges with their transformation of their service delivery through an online triage system that has enabled more clients to be signposted to appropriate advice.

“They have also developed effective remote working that has allowed them to support large numbers of often highly vulnerable clients during the pandemic in the areas of immigration, housing, and employment law.”

SWLLC won Legal Aid Firm of the Year in 2020 from the Legal Aid Lawyers of the Year Awards.

Tanya (not her real name) was helped to escape her husband by pro-bono lawyers and volunteers from SWLLC, after the council rejected her pleas for help because her abuse was not physical. 

Tanya’s husband demanded money and drained her accounts to fund his drug and alcohol habits, causing her landlord to threaten court action due to unpaid rent.

SWLLC successfully appealed for the council to rehouse Tanya, while their Crisis Navigator secured a grant for a washing machine, wardrobe, sofa, and supplied food parcels.

Tanya said: “Without the Law Centre I wouldn’t have been able to escape my husband and I’d have been taken to court by our landlord. 

“We are now in a flat and my children have a garden – it has turned out better than I’d ever thought possible. 

“We can now look ahead to the future.”

Featured image credit: SWLLC

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