Legal aid’s 2016 roll call of honour
The finalists for the 2016 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards have been announced. This year, for the first time, they have been opened to lawyers from Northern Ireland. As always, the calibre of entrants has been extremely high.
Legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency sponsored by the Law Society
Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU)
Founded just three years ago, ATLEU (pictured above) has used legal aid to extend sanctions against slavery and trafficking, despite a hostile political environment. It has brought some of the first compensation claims for victims.
Islington Law Centre
Islington Law Centre (director Ruth Hayes pictured right) has been at the heart of its local community for 40 years. It advises 3,000 people a year and constantly seeks new ways to ensure access to justice. It is praised for its work ensuring safe passage to the UK for migrant children from Calais.
Belfast-based KRW is Northern Ireland’s largest criminal defence, human rights and public law firm. It has brought successful challenges to stripsearching, monitoring of client-solicitor conversations and visiting rights for remand prisoners.
Legal aid newcomer sponsored by Friends of LALY16
Lester Morrill Solicitors
Rhiannon specialises in housing, community care and public law. After qualifying in 2012, she rapidly rose to become head of Lester Morrill’s housing department. She is committed, resilient and determined to see justice for her clients.
Darragh’s practice takes in public law by way of judicial review in Belfast and Dublin and third-party interventions before the UK Supreme Court. He does highprofile criminal defence work in often politically charged cases. He has an instinctive and intellectual understanding of complex litigation.
Garden Court North Chambers
Joseph acts in housing cases and has been known to attend homelessness camps to take instructions direct from clients. He was integral to the success of the Gudanaviciene case over exceptional case funding and is described as ‘an unpretentious genius’.
Garden Court Chambers
Tom acted for 10 families at the Hillsborough inquest and worked tirelessly on their behalf. A young woman whose fiancé died in custody says: ‘Thanks to Tom, I have the truth. I can sit down with my daughter when she’s old enough and explain how her father was let down.’
Legal aid barrister sponsored by the Bar Council
Dere Street Barristers
Based in Newcastle, Elizabeth is nominated by David Gray Solicitors’ entire family department, who rely on her courtesy and compassion for some of their most challenging cases, often involving clients with severe mental health issues.
Doughty Street Chambers
Martha is praised for her inquest work, in particular into the death of 17-year-old Kesia Leatherbarrow, where she stood her ground against far more senior counsel, ensuring the family received the answers they needed. Martha was recently announced as the new director of Liberty.
Garden Court Chambers
Three-quarters of Sonali’s work is legally aided, covering asylum and immigration, especially in relation to art 8. She is known for her dogged determination in bringing protection claims for Afghan and Iraqi refugees and challenging Home Office policy.
Criminal defence sponsored by CILEx
Edward is the archetypal coalface criminal defence lawyer. He is hugely experienced, having tackled all types of case during his career, and renowned for his modesty, lack of fuss and instinctively supportive attitude to his peers.
Zoe maintains a heavy caseload in Merseyside with tireless work for the Criminal Law Solicitors Association. She took over as its chair in November 2015, after a particularly turbulent period, and has done an incredible job for the organisation.
Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors
Simon was one of the driving forces behind the successful Supreme Court challenge over joint enterprise, which led to a fundamental rethink earlier this year. He has worked with the campaign organisation Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) since its inception and is now planning further appeals.
Public law sponsored by Irwin Mitchell
Simon has been instrumental in the development of prison law as a distinct specialism: ‘No one has done more to advance the civil liberties of prisoners,’ says an admirer. His Vintner case established the ‘right to hope’ for release for those serving whole life sentences.
Jane has had an exceptional year, having achieved successful strategic challenges relating to the use of immigration detention, changes in policy towards vulnerable prisoners, and greater protection for unaccompanied Syrian refugee children seeking to join relatives in the UK.
Lester Morrill Solicitors
Praised as dedicated, resourceful and compassionate, Gemma works predominantly in the areas of inquests and actions against public bodies. Based in Leeds, she is one of a small number of expert inquest lawyers outside London.
Social and welfare sponsored by Tikit
Lester Morrill Solicitors
Keith specialises in Gypsy and Traveller law and over the past 15 years has gained the trust of this underprivileged community, as well as the respect and admiration of his peers. He is described as working to secure better protection for this often marginalised group ‘one case at a time’.
Miles & Partners
Lou has over 30 years’ worth of formal and informal experience in housing and community care law, starting off as a volunteer adviser while running a carpentry business. Now a caseworker, she recently succeeded in forcing Tower Hamlets to change its allocation policy.
Mary Ward Legal Centre
Ian is praised for his expertise in housing disrepair cases, including acting for a disabled client who was over £11,000 in rent arrears and facing eviction. Ian worked to stop the repossession, ensured long-needed repairs were carried out, and won £14,000 compensation for disrepair.
Tim has never knowingly sought the limelight but the quality of his work shines out. He specialises in immigration and asylum work, taking on and winning some of the most difficult cases, thanks to his painstaking preparation, brilliant strategising and refusal to accept setbacks.
Mental health sponsored by DG Legal
Philippa acted in the landmark Cheshire West case, which established important new safeguards for patients without capacity. She is praised for bringing the same energy and commitment to all her work.
Tam draws praise from a wide gamut of supporters: a client of 12 years’ standing, a ward manager at a secure hospital, social workers and forensic psychiatrists. A former director of Broadmoor says Tam is the mental health lawyer he would choose for himself or his family, if the need arose.
Carolyn has dedicated her career to the fields of mental health and crime, including writing an invaluable book on advising mentally disordered defendants. She is an inspiration to younger lawyers and is described as one of the best tribunal advocates around.
Family mediation sponsored by Resolution
National Family Mediation
Jackie is a talented mediator who has a way of resolving even the most intractable, long-running disputes. In one case, warring parents had been in court more than 50 times, over many years, but Jackie was able to help them reach full agreement in just eight weeks.
Tracy is director and solicitor mediator at Heaney Watson and a true champion of mediation. In 2015, she organised a highly successful conference to spread the word about the value of mediation to fellow lawyers, judges, local authorities, financial advisers and others.
Family legal aid sponsored by Resolution
Baljit has a vocation for acting for vulnerable children and families. She speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, which is invaluable when acting for clients for whom English is a second language, and works on some of the most complex child protection cases.
GT Stewart Solicitors & Advocates
Naomi was behind the groundbreaking human rights case Medway Council v M and T, acting for a parent with mental health difficulties in a claim for misuse of section 20 agreements, winning significant damages, in a judgment that has benefited families up and down the country.
Lisa’s practice involves complex and challenging cases, covering the full spectrum of childcare work, from adoption to child abuse and neglect. A care client says: ‘I don’t think I could have coped without her honesty and support as my circumstances meant I didn’t have much family support.’
Children’s rights sponsored by Accesspoint
William is committed to acting for extremely vulnerable children with specialist needs. He conducts his work with no fuss or fanfare and although relatively new to the profession, always impresses with his absolute commitment and compassion.
South West London Law Centres
Rajitha specialises in immigration appeals for unaccompanied minors. She wins 95 per cent of her asylum appeals, and is praised for her extraordinary dedication and exceptional communication skills with clients who are often deeply traumatised.
Matthew Gold & Company
Clare works for migrant children facing destitution because they are being denied their rights under Children Act 1989 s17. One mother whose family had been at risk of homelessness says: ‘The way Clare handled my case was the most amazing thing that ever happened in my life.’
Access to justice through IT sponsored by the Legal Education Foundation
CrowdJustice was described by the LALY judges as a ‘game changer’. It has developed a tailored crowdfunding platform allowing cases to be brought that might otherwise have never got off the ground, including JENGbA’s intervention in the Jogee Supreme Court case.
Siaro was created by solicitor Alan Larkin of Family Law Partners. It allows lawyers to gather all relevant client information before an initial consultation in divorce or separation cases, thereby saving clients time and money.
Youth Justice Legal Centre
Set up by the youth justice charity Just for Kids Law, YJLC is using technology to educate lawyers and empower young people, by providing ready access to specialist information and advice. It is producing a series of animated films that explain the justice process in simple, accessible language.
■The judges will also be making an award for Outstanding Achievement (sponsored by Matrix).
■Legal Action is media partner of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.
The Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards are organised on a not-for-profit basis by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group. This is their 14th year.