Despite a challenging and tumultuous year, the commitment of legal aid lawyers to securing justice for their clients has been unwavering, as this year’s crop of Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year finalists shows.
Legal Aid Practitioners Group is delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2021 LALY awards. The standard of entrants this year was extraordinary and selecting the 35 finalists was a difficult task for our judging panel. The winners of the LALY21 awards will be announced at a virtual ceremony to be broadcast live on 6 July 2021
. We look forward to seeing you there.
Disability rights sponsored by Bidwell Henderson
Atkins & Palmer
Amy specialises in mental health and mental capacity law, representing clients in the mental health tribunal and the Court of Protection. She is praised not just for her intellect but also for putting her ‘heart and soul’ into each of her clients’ cases. She is founder and director of her firm.
Kate acts for clients in the Court of Protection, and has acted in landmark cases, including in the Supreme Court. She holds both Law Society mental health and mental capacity (welfare) accreditation. She is described as having a ‘unique combination of skills, which she applies with formidable determination’.
Kirsty is known for taking on challenging cases, including acting for a client with severe learning difficulties who was refused chemotherapy treatment by an NHS trust, as they were unsure if he could communicate any side effects. After Kirsty’s intervention, he was treated and is now in remission.
Criminal defence sponsored by Doughty Street Chambers
Anna is a solicitor-advocate, specialising in protest- and terrorism-related offences. She acted for XR protestors who were accused of flying drones near Heathrow Airport, and for the parents of Jack Letts, who were prosecuted for funding terrorism after they sent money to their son, who was alleged to have joined Isis.
Hodge Jones & Allen
Caroline is a youth justice specialist and founder of Women in Criminal Law
, which supports lawyers returning to practice after maternity leave. She is tireless in her efforts to ensure police and courts understand the impact of the justice system on young people. The mum of one of her young clients says: ‘Thank you Caroline for being a rock.’
Suzanne is head of her firm’s branch in Leyton, East London. She is known for her youth work and her support for the local Somali community. A man she represented when he was 17 says: ‘I have since turned my life around. I am married, have a child and am in stable employment. She helped me get where I am.’
Family law sponsored by Resolution
Ben Hoare Bell
Cris is a tenacious, dedicated and hugely respected family lawyer. She has built up her firm’s family law services, and is an expert in forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM cases. She is described as the ‘go-to’ solicitor for multiple charities supporting victims of domestic abuse.
Novlet acts in care proceedings, with a particular focus on working for extended family members opposing final care plans of adoption or long-term fostering. She is driven by the belief that children should maintain links with their families where possible. She is on the executive committee of the Association of Lawyers for Children
Oliver Fisher Solicitors
Oliver is praised for his ‘innate empathy and compassion’ for clients with learning and other disabilities. He fought tirelessly for a baby to remain with their Traveller parents, negotiating tricky family dynamics to keep the child out of care. A charity supporting LGBT victims of domestic abuse says he treats clients with ‘utmost dignity and respect’.
Housing law sponsored by One Pump Court
Barking & Dagenham Citizens Advice
Adrian heads a busy housing team in a deprived area of London. A local councillor says: ‘Without exaggeration, many of my constituents would have been living on the streets without Adrian’s help.’ The daughter of a woman with terminal illness says her mum was able to get a puppy ‘with all the joy that brings’ after he secured her a ground-floor flat.
South West London Law Centres
Jeinsen is a well-known and hugely respected member of the legal aid community. As well as his exceptional case work, he is a tireless campaigner and voice for social justice, unfailingly supportive of colleagues and peers, and generous with his time and expertise. He is described as embodying the principle of ‘gather round and let’s do this together’.
Greater Manchester Law Centre
Kathleen is the centre’s supervising solicitor, and has a focus on asylum support work and homeless gatekeeping. Her success last year in QBB protected thousands of destitute asylum-seekers from eviction during the pandemic, saving them from street homelessness. A trainee solicitor says: ‘She inspires her team to know the law can be used to change the world.’
Legal aid barrister sponsored by The Bar Council
Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh
Blinne is nominated for her work defending the rights of protestors and seeking justice for victims of the Troubles. A QC says she was instrumental in the successful appeal by the ‘Stansted 15’, who were prosecuted after trying to stop deportation flights: ‘Without her work and unflinching commitment, I genuinely believe they would remain convicted.’
Garden Court Chambers
Stephen is an expert in child law with a resolute focus on the interests of children and exemplary communication skills. A solicitor opposite him in a ‘very emotive and bitterly contested’ case says: ‘His calm and sensitive manner helped to broker an agreement that I had not thought likely given the level of ill feeling between the lay parties.’
Garden Court Chambers
Tessa has been instrumental in Shelter’s successful legal campaign against ‘No DSS’ landlords, with a string of court victories despite repeated refusals by the Legal Aid Agency to fund potential cases. The rulings are expected to give greater housing security to thousands of people. She is described as having ‘vision, acumen and tenacity’.
Legal aid team sponsored by Accesspoint
Cartwright King Mental Health Team
This highly experienced team offers its clients both compassion and expertise, ensuring their needs are met and their best interests protected. It is known for its supportive team spirit and client loyalty.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors – Public Law Team led by Toufique Hossain
The team has had a string of successful cases over the past year, including SM, where the court ruled immigration detainees held in prison must have fair access to legal advice. They are described as ‘ruthless in identifying abuses of power’.
Matthew Gold & Co Public Law & Community Care Team
This female-dominated team has brought an extraordinary range of cases in the past year, including over conditions at Napier barracks and extending pupil premiums to children on free school meals, and challenges over the CPS failure to prosecute crimes of sexual violence.
Legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency sponsored by The Law Society
Centre for Women’s Justice
CWJ’s nomination is supported by a raft of lawyers and women’s groups for its work protecting women who have been failed by the criminal justice system. One client describes them as ‘bloody brilliant’, adding: ‘I hadn’t laughed in months because of what’s happened but when the police texted to reverse their position after CWJ’s intervention, I did.’
This Nottingham-based firm, launched in 2018, has a national reputation for the excellence of its Court of Protection, mental health and community care work. Some 90 per cent of its work is legal aid, and its three founders are all recognised as experts in their fields and are described as ‘outstanding trailblazers and inspirational role models’.
Howard League for Penal Reform
The legal team at this leading penal reform charity provides a lifeline to children and young adults in custody. It has legal aid contracts in prison law, criminal appeals, public law and community care. Demand for its services has spiralled since lockdown. A youth offending team worker says: ‘I cannot speak highly enough of their passion and caring approach.’
Regional legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency sponsored by The Legal Education Foundation
Law Centre Northern Ireland
LCNI serves all communities across the region. It combines front-line work with strategic litigation and currently has two cases that have been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, including a challenge to the UK’s decision to deny EEA migrants with settled status access to welfare support.
The Family Law Company
This specialist firm, based in Exeter and Plymouth, has seen an 11 per cent increase in care proceedings in the past year, and has five lawyers with Law Society children law accreditation. A foster parent who came to the firm for special guardianship orders says their lawyer was ‘a beacon of common sense, always approachable, always understanding’.
Watkins & Gunn
Based in Cardiff, Watkins & Gunn leads the way in Welsh devolved public law, particularly in education, local government, health and human rights. It has fought to save vital local services from closure, such as schools and libraries, and has acted for victims in the Infected Blood Inquiry
, securing compensation payments.
Legal aid newcomer sponsored by CILEX
Doughty Street Chambers
Alice is a public law barrister and is described as making ‘an astonishing impact’ in relation to children and young people with special educational needs. She worked on a string of pandemic-related judicial reviews, including the downgrading of SEND duties under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and failure to increase financial support for carers during the outbreak.
Audrey Cherryl Mogan
Garden Court Chambers
Audrey is praised for her expertise representing vulnerable defendants. She was a member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers
and is co-director of Black Protest Legal Support
. She is described as ‘steadfast’ in protecting her clients’ interests and refuses to be intimidated by judges or more senior counsel.
Bianca St Prix
Hodge Jones & Allen
Bianca is a criminal defence solicitor, specialising in serious organised crime-related offences. A colleague says: ‘She is heavily invested in doing all she can for her clients. She also supports their families from the moment they are engaged in the criminal justice system and even once proceedings have concluded.’
Kesar & Co Solicitors
Killian is a passionate public lawyer and champion for the rights of disabled prisoners. His 2020 case against the Parole Board, Samuel, clarified the test for recommending a prisoner for open conditions, and EG led to a change in legislation to allow prisoners with mental impairments to have a litigation friend when they appear before the board.
Public law sponsored by DG Legal
Duncan Lewis Solicitors
‘Protecting the vulnerable is the hallmark of Maria’s work,’ according to one supporter. She won a string of cases against the Home Office last year, preventing unlawful mass removals during the pandemic by successfully challenging its unpublished revised screening interview policy. A charity working with vulnerable women says: ‘Maria has a gentle and understanding energy that allows clients to move at their own pace and feel safe.’
Nkiru acts for clients with unresolved immigration issues, including torture survivors and victims of trafficking. Earlier this year, a court ruled that her client, Sam Louis, had been unlawfully held in immigration detention for over three years, suffering personal injury as a result. Counsel in the case says: ‘She is one of the most capable lawyers I have worked with – extraordinarily diligent and extremely sharp.’
Public Law Project
Rakesh is praised for his exceptional expertise in immigration law. A colleague describes him as embodying an absolute, unswerving commitment to clients, with the forensic ability to build an unimpeachable strategic case that benefits not just the individual but access to justice and the rule of law. A long-standing client says: ‘Your experience, determination, professionalism and endurance in this fight are truly humbling.’
Social welfare law sponsored by Garden Court Chambers
Imogen specialises in immigration and asylum law, with a focus on detention and victims of trafficking. She is described as ‘persistent, resilient, tenacious’ and has a knack for unpicking years of negative court decisions to secure refugee status. Last year, she worked on a landmark appeal (MN and IXU) over the test for assessing credibility in trafficking claims. Counsel in the case says: ‘Our mutual client was very lucky to have her as her solicitor.’
Jeni’s nomination is supported by a raft of barristers and refugee charities, who praise her expertise and the time and care she devotes to clients. She recently took on the case of a deaf asylum-seeker who couldn’t communicate in British sign language, which meant the Home Office had refused to interview her. Jeni searched for and found a Russian sign language interpreter, and for the first time in five years this client is able to tell her story.
Kristen is a respected prison lawyer and was nominated by a life-sentence prisoner who, after serving 25 years, is ‘now living a free existence’ thanks to ‘Kristen’s self-motivation and belief in justice for her clients’. He writes: ‘Kristen took me on when people did not want to touch me with a bargepole.’ Since being paroled, he has mentored other prisoners and ‘completed many courses, all thanks to Kristen signposting me in the right direction’.
SL5 Legal/Tuckers Solicitors
Andrew is described as ‘the king of prison law’, often acting for elderly, disabled, seriously ill and neurodiverse prisoners, who may be unable to advocate on their own behalf. He acted for the first prisoner to achieve early release when the pandemic hit prisons: a tetraplegic man with serious respiratory conditions. The mother of an IPP prisoner says: ‘Andrew honestly cares. He goes the extra mile. He leaves no stone unturned.’
The LALY judges will also be making an award for Outstanding Achievement (sponsored by Matrix Chambers). There is no shortlist for this award.
LAG is media partner of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards, organised by Legal Aid Practitioners Group.