Take your MP to work day - Paul Maynard MP with a legal aid lawyer
Justice Minister Paul Maynard MP discusses his reflections after taking part in the ‘Take Your MP to Work’ campaign.
When I was asked if I would take part in the Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid’s #takeyourmptowork campaign I jumped at the chance.
As an MP, I hear from lots of people about the challenges they face, but having the opportunity to see it with my own eyes and really get to understand the experiences that people within the justice system are having day to day is invaluable.
I spent the day with Dr Ron Heywood, Graham Woodward, and Aaron Lee at The Fylde Coast and Legal Centre in my constituency in Blackpool. This ward has the fourth highest level of deprivation in the country, so the availability of this type of service is essential for local people to access justice and obtain the support they are entitled to.
I arrived at the centre just after lunch, having been at my constituency office in the morning. I was invited to sit in on the drop-in sessions that ran throughout the afternoon and saw a wide range of people with a wide range of issues. It was clear that no two cases are the same, and there is no “one size fits all” approach.
There was a steady stream of people looking for assistance, but the thing that struck me most about these cases was that a lot of the problems we heard about were able to be resolved without the need for legal advice. We could point people to other sources of information and support to make sure that they can resolve their issue before they reach the need to attend court.
The main take away for me was that it is so important for people to get the right type of support, and, crucially, at the right time.
At the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), our Legal Support Action Plan outlines the steps we are taking to improve the breadth of support available to people experiencing legal problems, and my day in Blackpool highlighted how essential this work will be. If we are able to catch problems early, give people the support that is right for their needs, and ensure it can be accessed at the right time, it will be a better system for all of us.
We are soon going to be launching a series of pilots to test a number of different approaches, including the impact of funding for early legal advice in social welfare cases, such as those I sat in on in Blackpool. And after my afternoon immersed in the legal support world, I am hopeful of a positive outcome that we can roll out across the country.
There is so much to be gained from spending time learning about someone else’s job, and I am pleased to say that MoJ officials are really embracing this ethos. As part of the criminal legal aid review that we are currently undertaking we have introduced a work-shadowing programme, where MoJ officials will shadow a range of practitioners, at various stages of criminal cases from the police station onwards. I am confident they will find the experience as enlightening as I did.
I am grateful to the staff who let me shadow them, to those people who allowed me to sit in on their consultations, and to the Young Legal Aid Lawyers and All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid for providing me with the opportunity to get this invaluable hands-on experience.