Celeb Tony Robinson pledges support to Hackney Community Law Centre

A Hackney law centre has drafted in celebrity supporters to help it fight back after sweeping government cuts made it harder for its legal aid lawyers to help people who can’t afford to pay for legal representation.

Solicitors at Hackney Community Law Centre (HCLC) were left reeling by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill when it was passed last month, but the centre has launched several new initiatives to ensure its survival, with big name patrons – including actor and presenter Tony Robinson – coming on board to support them.

The former Hackney resident, who presents Time Team on Channel Four, said: “In these very difficult times, HCLC provides an indispensable legal lifeline for people losing their jobs, under threat of eviction, or living below the breadline.”

Other patrons include Hackney MPs Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier, former Deputy Mayor of London Nicky Gavron, and human rights lawyer Louise Christian.

One of the centre’s solicitors, Nathaniel Mathews, slammed the Legal Aid cuts as a “catastrophe” and warned the worst-off in society will be disproportionately affected.

But staff at the centre in Lower Clapton Road are determined to continue helping residents deal with debt problems, housing issues, immigration status, employment rights, and welfare benefits.

Other initiatives include the launch of new community law “pop-up” shops. The first session launched last week, and they will take place at Hackney Central Library in Mare Street every Monday between 2pm to 5pm. It’s hoped the scheme will be rolled out to other venues in the future.

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The centre, which helped 3,000 clients last year, has created an account on the social networking website Twitter, @friendsofhclc.

And it is also running various outreach projects, which include helping young victims of homelessness, giving advice to immigrants, and helping women at risk of domestic abuse.

HCLC’s chairman, Cllr Ian Rathbone, is worried downsizing is inevitable in the wake of the cuts, but praised the lawyers’ dedication.

“It’s not about making money – it’s about caring for people and ensuring everyone has access to justice. That’s our modus operandi here,” he said.

The team recently helped a dad-of-five who feared he’d lose his home after he was mistakenly told he owed the taxman money. The centre managed to resolve the issue and he said: “Thanks to them, I can now sleep at night.”

Manager Sean Canning said: “We’re a service that’s always going to be needed. We’re seen as a vital community resource within the borough.”

• Lawyers who want to volunteer with the centre, anyone wishing to become a patron, or readers who want to donate money or provide premises for another pop-up shop, should call 020 8985 5236 or email miranda@hclc.org.uk.

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