Access to Justice and ABS: Salvation on its way?

It is a depressing time for access to justice.  Legal aid is being cut; the more general market for legal services is depressed; and – if Jackson and the legal aid cuts have the predicted effect – it about to get more depressed.  So it was with interest that I stumbled across Salvos Legal, a commercial legal firm in Australia with links to the Salvation Army that makes money from commercial and residential property cases and then uses the profits from that to cross-subsidise what it calls humanitarian law.  This includes: criminal law; family & children law; welfare; debt; housing; and, refugee & immigration law.  They also operate a pro-bono desk which coordinates the participation of pro bono advice from in-house lawyers.

The recruitment strategy for their lawyers looks interesting, and one way they ensure a good stream of work is by getting invited onto government panels which then enables them to tender for work.

I am not aware of any serious attempt like this to begin plugging access to justice gaps through this kind of overt cross-subsidy.  The argument has been for years that legal aid is informally cross-subsidised, but this is quite different and it is also appears to be of a different order to pro bono schemes (where some firms second out employees to work in advice agencies).  Am I missing something, I can’t think of anything here yet which looks like this?

There are various potential problems with the approach.  The Salvation Army roots mean the firm may be reluctant to take certain kinds of case, I hear (thought I have no detail on what kinds of case).  Conversely, the charity’s roots also, reportedly, facilitate its links with social welfare providers (hostels; drugs workers and the like).  One also wonders how easy it is to cross-subsidise in a competitive market.  On that point it is worth noting however that Salvos is growing from its initial Sidney base to an office in Brisbane.   Two offices of course is but a drop in the access to justice ocean, nevertheless it provides food for thought.

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I have been reminded of this from Jon Robins, where some Law Centres are attempting  something similar (HT Ryan Bradshaw) .

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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5 Responses to Access to Justice and ABS: Salvation on its way?

  1. I recall many years ago as part of a review of legal aid suggesting the possibility of cross subsidies. At this time a Funding Code was being developed giving priority to particular areas of legal service provision such as family, children, housing etc. At the time, and as the case remains today Govt. in Northern Ireland provides all funding for legal service provision for those who qualify on a means tested basis. Civil legal aid obviously formed part of the review and various alternatives were being examined to include SLAS, CLAF, ATE or combinations thereof. The various alternatives could have been managed by Govt. or all funding for civil legal aid could have been withdrawn and an open market solution/provider(s) found.
    We put forward a proposition that it was pretty much irrelevant who offered the alternative to civil legal aid as it was simply a matter of who was going to underwrite the risk. The basic premise of the offering was that whatever solution was settled on would be self funding and would hopefully over time generate a profit. The profit in turn could be used to assist funding other legal services. The solutions were very much scheme based with a range of insurance and reinsurance options depending on the level of seed funding and risk appetite.
    The debate in this jurisdiction continues.

  2. Cas says:

    Legal aid is a failure in this country. It brings up the hope that justice can be achieved for those who cannot afford to pay a solicitor and barrister only to find themselves with a huge debt at the end of all failed proceedings. Also Legal Aid does not fund cases that go for appeal and Justices refuse to allow such cases to go for appeals providing restrictions in their court orders. So where is the justice in that? Most of the solicitors and barristers who accept Legal Aid are not competent enough to deal with the matter but they need the funds. To get Justice one must fund the matter personally and hire powerful, fully capable solicitors and barristers (pref at QC level) to win the matter. There is a limited access to the law in the UK. It’s sad but true.

    • RAB says:

      You clearly do not have a clue what you are talking about. Many many people in Legal Aid see it as a vocation. You probably sneer at welfare benefits lawyers when the judiciary recognise that this is area is among the most complex one can practise in. Your is a tired ill informed trope.

  3. Blessing Uche says:

    In light of Gary’s comment, I sincerely hope the debate for cross-subsidies not only continues, but that it mounts off from our lips to become fruitful. I think it will be of great interest to the commercial world to commit to cross-subsidy endeavours. Where there is revenue, there is a way. It would be a shame to watch the door that provides access to justice bolt shut, when there is a clear way to at least keep it ajar. I think it is of great interest to the commercial world to actively engage in such worthwhile endeavours, nurture their social responsibility and ultimately, remain justice-conscious, as I believe all lawyers should be.

  4. Pingback: An incomplete inventory of NewLaw - Law21

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