Hard line on legal aid for library battles

Hard line on legal aid for library battles

Campaigners seeking legal aid to pursue judicial review claims against local library closures are being asked for "community contributions" of over 50% of costs by the Legal Services Commission (LSC).

Isle of Wight campaigners said they had been advised that they needed to raise £15,000 to pursue their claim against closures; Brent is seeking £30,000. Lawyers acting in the Gloucestershire and Somerset cases said they were still "seeking to agree a suitable level" of contribution.

A spokesperson for the LSC said it was quite usual to ask for a contribution in such cases, because while the action may be taken by one claimant eligible for legal aid, it could potentially benefit a whole community. The spokesperson denied that the LSC sets the level of contribution required, but said it looks to be "the minority funder" of the legal action.

Lewisham resident James Holland said being told the community would have to stump up funds had stopped him from starting a claim over New Cross library, due to close tomorrow (28th May). "It wasn't realistic to raise the money because the closure is on Saturday," he said. "They didn't say an amount, but it costs even to put a claim in—and New Cross is not a wealthy area."

In the Isle of Wight, resident Dave Quigley said legal aid claimants were appealing against having to contribute £15,000. "We were told [by the LSC] that the island was an affluent area," he said. "This is not true. We are an unemployment blackspot, and in the areas where the five libraries are closing at least 75% of the population are children, pensioners or on income support."

Solicitor Daniel Carey of Public Interest Lawyers said the LSC had been taking a hard line but also had its own "resource problems". He said: "The LSC's reasoning is that substantial numbers of county residents will benefit from the case, so they should contribute their own funds.  Obviously, when these people are already taxpayers who contribute to legal aid, and when the cases themselves challenge community-run initiatives, this is very hard to swallow. But it becomes an even bigger problem if the level of contribution the LSC expects renders a case impossible to run."