On every other Wednesday in the afternoon up to 18 clients pitch into our office to get free immigration advice. Unfortunately our reception is quite small, and at times it feels that the members of the public we serve are trapped upright like sardines.
Every Wednesday morning up to 12 clients pitch up to get free employment advice. Like Vienna sausages in a tin, we wriggle around each other to get to the door and politely try not to step on anybody's corns.
Some Thursdays there is room for the client's children to do the colouring books with crayons. For about a month there was a toy road in the toy box, and the children were delirious with joy slotting the pieces together and driving matchbox-like cars (I'm dating myself here) round and round cardboard trees.
One time the Kurdish mother points out that there are staples in the toy-box, which is an obvious health and safety hazard. She didn't put it quite like that.
Eventually all the children's books and good toys get nicked. Although as a lawyer I must frown on theft, particularly at an impressionable age (learn right from wrong kid!) I can't help thinking that is what the toys were given to us for.
We're lucky enough to work in a beautiful building in Lower Clapton Road, smack dab next to Hackney Police Station. The dividing wall with the police station says “Property of the Metropolitan Police”. In case you should find a wall with those words on it lying around on Streatham Common, that wall has been stolen.
Across the road from us is a charming park where five years ago someone was murdered. For a while they put wreaths and cards on the Victorian ironwork, but these blew away, like memories.
There is a plan afoot by the Coalition Government to stop people with money problems from accessing local free legal advice from charities and other providers. It is called the Gateway Scheme.
Under the Gateway Scheme people with money problems who still qualify for free Legal Aid could come in to our reception and wait at the end of a line. Well, a line's a polite phrase. Anyway, when they get to the front and we are able to understand that they have debt problems, they would have to call an official government debt line and ask for permission to speak to us.
I'm not joking.
Fortunately the House of Lords has given the Gateway Scheme a good kicking. Unfortunately, rumour has it that the Commons will rush it through on a Money Bill. As far as I can tell, this means the Government has spent all the money it will already and if there is a vote of dissent in the Lords against it it will override it.
This means all the time spent in the Lords debating the issues will be a complete waste of time. In effect, the passing of an Act of Parliament will have been a charade.
Nutso or what?
PS Can we have some more toys and books please?