Now in their 15th year, the finalists of the 2017 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards have been announced. As in all previous years, the calibre of entrants has been tremendously high.
Children’s rights sponsored by CILEx
Just for Kids Law
Jennifer has been a specialist youth justice barrister at the charity Just for Kids Law since 2010. She has ‘a ferocious intellect coupled with commitment to social justice’. Recent successes include intervening in the Supreme Court joint enterprise case of R v Jogee and a judicial review over the retention of children’s criminal records.
Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens/Migrants Resource Centre
Solange is founder of PRCBC, which has enabled 66 children to obtain citizenship. Her work is described as ‘transformative’. She litigates complex citizenship cases, conducts legal research and trains agencies that support migrant children. She is praised for her ‘generosity of spirit and encyclopaedic knowledge’.
Melanie is head of GT Stewart’s youth department and has dedicated herself to representing young people since she qualified in 1998. She has particular expertise in representing vulnerable defendants and works tirelessly to ensure their rights are protected. She is a wonderful example of a coalface lawyer.
Criminal defence sponsored by DG Legal
Zoe is respected by colleagues and clients alike. As well as being a partner at her firm, she is chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and a passionate advocate for the profession. She is described as ‘inspirational’ and adored by clients for her no-nonsense approach and sound judgement.
Jude is a long-standing champion for legal aid and social justice. Whether a dispute over a train ticket or a charge of murder, Jude brings the same level of professionalism, commitment and skill. She is praised as ‘a fearless, dedicated and uniquely supportive solicitor, who commands the respect of a diverse client group’.
Hodge Jones & Allen
Graeme has dedicated his career to acting for vulnerable defendants and has carved out a niche supporting clients with autism and their families. One mother says: ‘Finally, I was talking to someone who treated my son like a human being and understood his challenges.’ His nomination is supported by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen.
Legal aid newcomer sponsored by Friends of LALY17
Jennifer acts for refugees and migrants, and is described as an ‘exceptional lawyer and exceptional human being’. She is as tireless as she is dogged, in one instance winning exceptional funding for a case involving a father and his three children that no solicitor could be found to take on. She volunteers for migrant charities and NGOs.
Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors
Ravi brought a groundbreaking challenge to the Home Office’s decades-old practice of imposing curfews on those on immigration bail, which had never previously been questioned. In R (Gedi) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Court of Appeal ruled there was no lawful basis for the curfews and the lives of many migrants have been transformed as a result.
Garden Court Chambers
Paul’s practice is made up of inquests, actions against public bodies and judicial review. His cases are often complex and controversial, including acting for the families of four men murdered by Stephen Port after meeting him through the dating app Grindr.
Garden Court North
Tom was nominated by Child Poverty Action Group for his tireless work in social security, housing, immigration and public law. He was instrumental in last year’s ‘bedroom tax’ victory (R (Carmichael and others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) and wins praise from the family for his encouragement and support. He is described as a ‘faithful companion to CPAG’, always on hand to advise.
Legal aid barrister sponsored by The Bar Council
Garden Court Chambers
Brenda is a leading junior, instructed in serious, high-profile and complex criminal cases and inquests. In 2016, she won an acquittal for Seamus Daly, accused of the 1998 Omagh bombing. Her cross-examination of the main prosecution witness was described as ‘devastating’ and ‘a masterclass in advocacy’.
Doughty Street Chambers
Jesse combines ‘an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law with a campaigning brain and emotional intelligence’. He specialises in public law, human rights, inquests and civil actions against public authorities. The sister of a man who died in prison says: ‘We called him the pitbull as he kept gnawing away until he got his result.’
Philip is a creative and fearless advocate for prisoners’ rights. He is unafraid to fight his client’s corner, even in the face of judicial antipathy. A QC says: ‘He is the sort of junior who gives you the backbone to argue points that you would otherwise be reluctant to argue. Philip never gives up.’
Family public sponsored by Resolution
Sheila has had an exceptional year, with a string of landmark cases, including Re W, which led to the court giving guidance on separate representation of children; and Re N, which led to much-needed clarification of Re Valentine’s settlement, in relation to international adoptions. A barrister says she is ‘practical, tactful and insightful’.
Deborah is a solicitor advocate specialising in care proceedings, including those raising issues of radicalisation. A judge said of one of her cases: ‘[It] has been kept on track by the tenacity and sheer hard work of Ms Piccos. There has been a wealth of confusing detail which has been on occasion beyond the grasp of the other parties.’
Creighton & Partners
Heather qualified only four years ago, but her practice is testimony to her incredible maturity as a lawyer. She handles complex public children cases, and is described by colleagues as bright, engaging and driven. ‘She puts herself in the client’s position and deals with cases as if they were her own.’
Legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency sponsored by The Law Society
Community Law Partnership
CLP is a legal aid firm to its core. It specialises in housing law for those facing possession, the homeless, and Gypsies and Travellers, including cutting-edge work in the higher courts. A client who collapsed when trying to represent herself says: ‘I went from wanting to die to wanting to live – that’s how much their help meant.’
Harrow Law Centre
Founded in 2010, Harrow Law Centre has legal aid contracts in housing, immigration and asylum, public law and community care, plus for welfare benefits Upper Tribunal work in the South East. It regularly brings judicial reviews and has had two cases in the Court of Appeal. Despite legal aid cuts, it continues to expand its work.
KRW Law was nominated by Justice4the21, the campaign run by the families of victims of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. This Belfast firm succeeded in reopening the inquest into the deaths but faced a further battle to win legal aid for the case. A woman whose sister died in the attack describes KRW as ‘an incredible firm’.
Immigration and asylum sponsored by Accesspoint
Barnes Harrild and Dyer
Kaweh arrived in the UK as an asylum-seeker in 2004, speaking little English. He qualified in 2016, but was bringing leading cases while still a trainee. A barrister who has worked with him on successful judicial reviews says: ‘He handled them with the assurance of a much more senior lawyer and rare dedication and passion.’
Duncan Lewis Solicitors
Toufique is director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis. He is dedicated to challenging unlawful detention of asylum-seekers and has won increased safeguards for detainees. He often takes on last-minute litigation to stop removals. He has built a team of young and talented lawyers, and also campaigns on immigration issues.
Marcela coordinated over 100 challenges brought by her firm and others over the Detained Asylum Casework system, working under extreme pressure and to a truncated timetable. A QC says: ‘Working with Marcela, you really feel inspired to carry on with the fight because of her unwavering determination to get the best result for every client.’
Family private including mediation sponsored by Resolution
Mark is passionate about all areas of family law work. He is analytical and dogged, and relishes strategising to achieve best outcomes for clients. He conducts his own advocacy. A client in a mother and baby unit says: ‘He is there when I’m stressed, upset or angry. He makes sure local authorities do their job.’
Despite being a relative newcomer to the profession, Amardeep stands out because of her drive and passion. She is committed to access to justice. She handles complex and sensitive cases. One client says: ‘I would recommend her to anybody. She is the best solicitor ever.’
David Gray Solicitors
Mary leads family mediation at David Gray, and has a team of three. She has been on the Children Panel for nearly 25 years. She works with high-conflict couples, where her emotional intelligence and sensitivity are invaluable. One client says: ‘Mary had a way of making me feel heard and relaying that to my ex.’
Social and welfare sponsored by Tikit
Laura’s client group are not the kind who are heard or noticed: people without the capacity to advocate on their own behalf. She is their champion. One says: ‘She makes you feel as if you are her only client.’ A colleague says: ‘Her legal instincts are spot on, but so is her ability to put some of society’s most vulnerable individuals at ease.’
Manjit is driven by her passion for housing law and achieving fantastic results for her vulnerable clients. One mother saved from eviction said: ‘I had telephoned over 15 different solicitors. They all said it was an impossible case, to just look for rehousing. Manjit said: “It’s a challenge but I’m taking it on.”’
Deighton Pierce Glynn
Gareth has spent his career at the legal aid coalface, conducting housing, community care and social security cases. Last year, the High Court ruled in his favour against Southwark Council (Jones v Southwark LBC), resulting in thousands of council tenants receiving refunds after being overcharged for water and sewerage for more than a decade.
Bhatia Best Solicitors
Stuart is head of casework in the community care and public law department at his Midlands-based firm. He is at the forefront of protecting the rights of refugee children in cases involving detention of young people, age disputes, and children in care. He is praised for ‘unparalleled tenacity and commitment’ to his intensely vulnerable clients.
Public law sponsored by Irwin Mitchell
Dr Keith Lomax
Keith’s ‘distinguishing characteristics are an absolute determination to do his best for clients, a real sense of compassion coupled with a keen legal mind and enormous intellectual ability’. For over 25 years, he has been making his mark in public law. ‘You can guarantee that if there is a point that is arguable, Keith will pursue it.’
Christopher was nominated by Birmingham MP Jess Phillips. She praises his commitment to the families of the victims of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings in their quest to reopen the original inquest, despite uncertainty over whether legal aid would be available. ‘There is nothing easy about taking on this case,’ she says.
Katy’s clients will typically have been failed by one or more public authorities. A former immigration case worker, she is praised for her professionalism and compassion. A barrister says she combines ‘intellectual rigour, tactical savvy and enormous diligence, with a real commitment to and kindness towards her clients’.
Access to justice through IT sponsored by The Legal Education Foundation
Following the success of Advicelocal in London, Lasa is now set to launch a UK-wide version. Advicelocal provides free access to thousands of quality-assured resources, covering welfare benefits, debt, housing, immigration, disability, health and social care, and children and families, tailored to the individual’s location.
Law for Good, Legal Geek
Law for Good aims to apply new thinking and cutting-edge technology to the age-old problem of ensuring access to justice. To date, it has staged two ‘hackathons’, bringing technologists, coders and designers together with legal charities to create IT-based solutions to issues such as advice deserts and client drop-out.
Advicenow, Law for Life
Law for Life uses multimedia information and education to help people understand their rights and have the confidence and skills to enforce them. Its Advicenow site is a vital resource for litigants in person, providing accurate and clear information in a user-friendly format, including via a series of explainer videos.
The judges will also be making an award for Outstanding Achievement (sponsored by Matrix).
•The Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards are organised on a not-for-profit basis by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.
•Legal Action is media partner of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.
The winners will be announced by Baroness Doreen Lawrence at a ceremony in central London on 5 July 2017. A limited number of tickets are available on general sale, see LAPG's website