Firm's Access to Justice Programme One Year On
02 Aug 2016
International law firm Simmons & Simmons launched its UK Access to Justice Programme in May 2015 under the broader UK Collaborative Plan, which is a collaboration of the leading 30 UK law firms to promote access to justice for low income individuals. A year on and the innovative Programme continues to go from strength to strength, with a total of 39 successful welfare benefit cases now recorded.
The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed many areas of social welfare law from scope for free legal aid. This saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of individuals left without an avenue to pursue a legal challenge or otherwise seek redress to remedy a wrong and created a massive unmet need.
Responding to this need, and to further the commitment to the Collaborative Plan, Simmons & Simmons trained over 30 lawyers in social welfare law and engaged a social welfare lawyer to establish and oversee an Access to Justice Programme. The aim of the Programme was to assist vulnerable individuals challenge disability benefit decisions by way of appeal to the first tier tribunal; although a few cases have also been opened dealing with other areas of social welfare law.
In the past year, 47 welfare benefit cases have been opened with 39 having concluded resulting in over £100,500 in backdated benefits. This does not include advance awards which are made in all cases. The success rate is over 88%. The Programme has engaged 34 associates and trainees with the support of 25 partners. As a pro bono model, this Programme is unique in that it seeks to create a sustainable model of delivery by having an in-house social welfare lawyer acting as an interface with the community and also ensuring both vertical and horizontal engagement within the firm.
Senior partner, Colin Passmore, commented, “I have been really impressed by the firm’s response to a very real need for lawyers at the coal face of welfare law who can make a real difference to so many lives – and I particularly take my hat off to the lawyers at the firm drawn from many disciplines and of varying degrees of seniority, who have in their own time become familiar with the essential elements of welfare law necessary to help this most vulnerable section of society”
Pro bono lawyer based in the firm’s London office, and leader of the programme, Diane Sechi, continued, “Many of those we have assisted face a life of disability or by reason of age and illness, are simply too unwell to work. Others are experiencing an acute illness and just require welfare assistance to see them over the worst period so that they can regain strength and return to the workforce. Without assistance from the Simmons & Simmons volunteers, many of these vulnerable individuals would be left without an income to provide for the essential living expenses for themselves and their families. In this respect, the Programme not only provides procedural access to justice but substantial access to fundamental rights”.
The Programme is not stand alone as it forms part of the firm’s wider Corporate Responsibility and Pro Bono strategy. Although the Programme can’t possibly address the massive unmet need, it has demonstrated that, with the correct conduit, the collective of Corporate Responsibility can make a meaningful societal difference.
Notes to editors:
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4. In May 2015, Simmons & Simmons launched its UK Access to Justice Programme, as part of its commitments under the broader UK Collaborative Plan, which is a collaboration of the leading 30 UK law firms to promote access to justice for low income individuals. The scheme employs an in-house social welfare lawyer to oversee the work of lawyers employed by Simmons & Simmons in our London and Bristol offices. The Scheme delivers end to end case work for welfare benefit appeals at the First Tier Tribunal; an area of law removed from legal aid funding scope by the Legal Aid Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
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