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Sadiq Khan launches new legal advice service after previous scheme faced setbacks

A free legal advice service for victims of rape and serious sexual offences has been launched by Sadiq Khan, after “setbacks” forced an earlier version of the scheme to be “paused” last year.

The London mayor promised in his recent re-election manifesto that he would launch the service as a ‘pilot’, and his office has now confirmed that the trial will run for a year until June 2025.

Responding to a written question from Gareth Roberts – a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly – Mr Khan’s office said the scheme will provide help for victims aged 16 and over.

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They added that referrals to the new service will come from across the capital via independent sexual violence advisors based at the London Survivors Gateway – a ‘hub’ which offers support to victims in accessing specialist help.

In the coming weeks, referrals will also start to come from the Metropolitan Police in the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, which have been selected as part of the one-year trial.

An evaluation of the pilot is concurrently being run by the University of Loughborough, with interim findings expected in early 2025.

An earlier attempt at providing the service, which launched in February 2023, is said by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) to have “experienced a number of setbacks, primarily as a result of challenges in recruiting and retaining lawyers to the project”.

MOPAC added: “There were challenges faced with appropriate referrals into the pilot. In August 2023, following [the] departure of the main lawyer, it was agreed that the pilot would pause and reflect, and consider how to improve the cost effectiveness of the pilot and build resilience into the workforce”.

Officials admitted that the original budget for the project, of £70,000, “did not include the infrastructure that would be needed around the lawyers, including specialist training, paralegal support, counsel advice, supervision and management support”.

The new pilot service will make use of an extra £148,500 of funding, City Hall said, and will consist of two full-time lawyers, accompanied by the necessary administrative support.

The service was first formally proposed by Mr Khan in his 2022 strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

It was suggested then that the service could provide advice for victims “on issues of privacy and data in relation to mobile phones and other devices, in line with the national recommendations in the London Rape Reviews”.

The mayor said at the time that the UK is witnessing “a national epidemic of misogyny” and that “far too many women and girls now feel unsafe going about their daily lives in London and across our country”.

He pointed to “the appalling murders of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard, Maria Rawlings and Sabina Nessa” and said his “long-term ambition is to eradicate VAWG in our city, so that every woman and girl can participate fully in London life without experiencing or fearing harassment, abuse or violence from men”.

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