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Champions from the media and the professions, and from big business and show business will help promote the Commun...
Champions from the media and the professions, and from big business and show business will help promote the Community Legal Service, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, announced today.

They range from media personalities Esther Rantzen and Jeni Murray to Lincoln Crawford QC of the Bar race relations committee, Eddie Oliver, chairman of KPMG and entrepreneur and charity fund raiser Lord Levy.

The first 12 champions were named at a Community Legal Service conference in London.

Conference chairman Keith Vaz MP, Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department said, 'I am delighted that people of such calibre from different walks of life have offered to share their skills to help promote the Community Legal Service. They will play a very valuable part in supporting the hard work by 50 local authorities to pioneer the Community Legal Service.'

The all-day meeting brought together delegates from local authorities involved in pioneering the Community Legal Service concept. The new way of ensuring that quality legal help and advice is accessible for people throughout England and Wales will be launched in April 2000. But 50 local authorities, serving 25% of the public, are already helping to develop the scheme.

The aim is to bring together a range of providers and funders of legal help and advice into co-ordinated, local networks so that people have the minimum trouble getting good quality, reliable legal information and services.

Quality-assured law firms, citizens' advice bureaux, community law centres and other advice services will display a new Community Legal Service badge to be unveilled when the new service is launched in April. The government plans to 'roll out' the service in partnership with local authorities so that it is in place almost everywhere in England and Wales by 2002. A new 'gateway to justice' website will back up the service.

Keith Vaz said, 'The Community Legal Service is about helping people. If people cannot be sure that they can get good quality legal advice they do not have access to justice. The present picture is often fragmented locally and is inconsistent across the country.

'The government wants people to be able, easily, to access the kind of help they need - whether they simply want information about their rights, whether they want to know how to exercise their rights or whether they want someone to represent them in court or at a tribunal.

'The Community Legal Service will be there, in future, if someone wants to check their rights as a tenant, or to claim some benefits they are entitled to, or to oppose a landlord or an employer or to take them to court or to settle any other legal issue.

'When people see the new Community Legal Service badge they will know that is where they get help. For the very needy, help will be free -as legal aid is now.

'This is a radical concept of working with local government and local providers to bring a seamless system of access to justice back to thecommunity. But people have to know and understand what is coming from April 2000. The champions have come forward to help us promote the Community Legal Service among those who can help develop it and, especially, among those who will benefit from it.'

Conference delegates discussed feedback from the Lord Chancellor's Department consultation paper on the Community Legal Service. Research academics, local government officials, information technology experts and representatives from the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the National Consumer Council addressed the conference or took part in open discussion sessions.

The champions announced today are:

David Brown, chairman of Motorola;

John Caine, director of corporate affairs at Alliance and Leicester; Sir Tim Chessels, chairman of the Legal Aid Board; Lincoln Crawford QC, chairman of the Bar race relations committee; David Harker, chief executive of NACAB; Lord Levy, entrepreneur and charity fund raiser; Jeni Murray, BBC Women's Hour presenter; Eddie Oliver, Chairman of KPMG; Esther Rantzen, media personality and Childline innovator; Mark Stephens, chairman of the Law Society Conference; Philip Sycamore, former President of the Law Society; and Alan Talentire, chairman of the Association of Town Centre Management.

The Pioneering Partnerships Conference was held at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers conference centre. Speakers included:

Brian Briscoe, chief executive of the Local Government Association; Information technology specialist Professor Richard Susskind; Academics Professor Hazel Genn and Richard Moorhead; Neil Bravery of East Riding of Yorkshire Council; and Shani Fancett of NACAB.

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