Last night the legal aid world gathered to celebrate at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards 2012, better known as the LALYs. This is the tenth year of the LALYs and once again the awards proved to be an inspirational celebration of the work of legal aid practitioners despite the gloom caused by the pending cuts.
Awards were made for young solicitor, young barrister and legal aid barrister, as well as for lawyers in individual categories of law – family, social welfare, mental health, immigration and criminal law. The LALYs are organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) which represents the interests of legal aid lawyers. The evening was full of touching stories about the dedication of the lawyers who work in legal aid. For example, a colleague of Eileen Bye, nominated for immigration lawyer of the year, had told the LALY judging panel of how she would ‘filch clothes from her son’s wardrobe for clients’. A client of Bushra Ali, also nominated for the immigration lawyer prize, described her as ‘like a heart surgeon who has given me a new heart and a new lease of life’.
Winners included Rachel Horman, of Watson Ramsbottom solicitors based in Blackburn. She specialises in domestic violence cases and commented on accepting the award for family legal aid lawyer that women ‘are attacked over 37 times on average before they go to anyone for help’. Another winner was Turpin & Miller; the Oxford-based solicitors won firm of the year and in accepting the award stressed that fee-earners in the firm work together to resolve the clusters of problems which clients face.
The cuts in scope to legal aid planned by the government for April next year were never far from people’s minds last night. Raj Chada, who won the criminal defence lawyer LALY commented, ‘Our clients are willing to stand up and say legal aid is an essential public service and should be funded’. In a rousing speech, Michael Mansfield QC, who chaired the panel of judges which made the awards, called for ‘an uprising against what has happened to legal aid’ and said that the ‘political and legal fight against the legal aid cuts must continue’.
The award for outstanding achievement was made to the solicitor Imran Khan, who was described as a lawyer who once he has run out of all the legal options demands that the law is changed so that justice is served. It was fitting that his most high profile client, Doreen Lawrence, received a special 10th anniversary award. The co-chair of LAPG, Jenny Beck, who presented this award, said that Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for 19 years to bring her son’s killers to justice, was someone ‘who fought for justice not because it was her job, but due to tragic circumstance’ and that she was ‘an inspiration to everyone who cares about justice’.
The July edition of Legal Action will have full coverage of the awards. Legal Action Group is the media partner of the awards.
Image: Robert Aberman