Authors:Fiona Bawdon
Last updated:2023-09-25
A true badge of honour
Marc Bloomfield
Description: LALYs
It’s that time again, when we reveal the names of the individuals and organisations who most impressed our 2023 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards judges, writes Fiona Bawdon.
Deciding the finalists in the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards is never easy, but this year there were some truly agonising decisions to be made by the LALY23 judges, as the calibre of nominations was just extraordinary. It is often hard for anyone working in social justice to feel positive about the future of the sector, but after reading this year’s crop of nominations for the Legal Aid Newcomer award, it’s clear that the quality and commitment of newer entrants to the legal aid profession is as high at it has ever been. Every one of the judges remarked on how heartening it is to read so many compelling and heartfelt tributes to the nominees from their colleagues, peers, clients and other professionals who have worked with them.
Being a LALY finalist should be seen as a true badge of honour, and we hope all of those detailed below can take a moment in their intensely busy lives to reflect on that achievement and feel proud. Commiserations to those who were nominated but not shortlisted. We urge you and your supporters not to feel too downhearted. The competition is so fierce and there are many among our long list of previous winners who also did not make it onto the shortlist the first time they were nominated. Remember, there is always LALY24 (or LALY25, LALY26, LALY27 …).
Legal aid newcomer sponsored by Friends of LALY23
Description: Christian Weaver_Garden Court North Chambers
Christian Weaver
Garden Court North Chambers
Christian acted for the family of Awaab Ishak, the toddler, who died from a respiratory illness after prolonged exposure to mould in the housing association flat where he and his family lived. Awaab’s family say Christian ‘helped us to fight when we felt like no-one was listening to us’.
Description: Danielle Manson_Garden Court Chambers
Danielle Manson
Garden Court Chambers
Danielle is a criminal defence barrister, with particular expertise in defending children and young people. A client she acted for when he was 16 wrote: ‘She never lost sight of the fact that I was just a person who needed her help.’
Description: Ife Thompson_1MCB Chambers
Ife Thompson
1MCB Chambers
Ife is described as a ‘movement lawyer’. As well as being a committed and innovative criminal defence and actions against the police barrister, she also founded the campaign organisations Black Protest Legal Support UK and Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health.
Description: Josie Hicklin_Greater Manchester Law Centre
Josie Hicklin
Greater Manchester Law Centre
Josie is a housing and public law solicitor, acting for destitute and homeless clients. Her 2022 case CB led to an increase in financial support for 50,000 adults and children seeking asylum to help them cope with the cost of living crisis. She is described as a great advocate for social change and always takes the time to get to know her clients.
Legal aid support staffer sponsored by Accesspoint Technologies
Description: Katayoon Zare_TRP Solicitors
Katayoon Zare
TRP Solicitors
‘Welcoming and friendly, comforting and competent’; ‘Respectful, always cheerful and willing to help’; ‘If I could give 100 stars to Katayoon, I would!’ TRP’s office manager’s nomination is supported by a string of testimonials from the firm’s clients, who appreciate her professionalism and kindness.
Description: Kelly Smith_Child Poverty Action Group
Kelly Smith
Child Poverty Action Group
For 17 years, Kelly has been supporting CPAG’s vital welfare rights advice and test case legal work. She is praised for her intelligent and meticulous approach, and the confidence she inspires in colleagues. Kelly is described as an irreplaceable member of the team.
Description: Sheree Clark_Coram Children's Legal Centre
Sheree Clark
Coram Children’s Legal Centre
Sheree is Coram’s operations and finance manager, responsible for all its legal aid billing. She is described as the backbone of the organisation and an unsung legal aid hero, who never takes credit for her work. ‘She truly understands the meaning of working as a team for the greater good.’
Children’s rights sponsored by Leigh Day
Description: Alia Lewis_Duncan Lewis Solicitors
Alia Lewis
Duncan Lewis Solicitors
Alia is an experienced and dedicated children panel solicitor and leads a team of specialist care lawyers at Duncan Lewis. She has made ‘astonishing efforts’ to raise awareness of neurodiversity, particularly autism, within the family courts, working tirelessly to ensure children’s needs are properly met.
Description: Katie Wilkins_Irwin Mitchell
Katie Wilkins
Irwin Mitchell
Katie qualified two years ago and has a wealth of experience working on judicial reviews up to the Court of Appeal, and acting for clients in the Court of Protection. She works with families to get detained mental health patients home with the right care and support in place.
Description: Whitney Hard_Coram Children's Legal Centre
Whitney Hard
Coram Children’s Legal Centre
The impact of Whitney’s work as a community care and public law solicitor is best summed up in the words of one of her young clients: ‘Because of what Whitney’s done for me, I have a home. I can focus on my education and I’m getting therapy. I thank God for her.’
Family legal aid sponsored by Resolution
Description: Amna Khaliq_Wilson Solicitors LLP
Amna Khaliq
Wilson Solicitors LLP
Amna is often instructed in complex international child abduction cases. One father says: ‘Amna’s support and personable approach turned a very long and complex two-year case, which had the potential to be an ordeal, into a journey that always felt under control.’
Description: Saifalee Doolooa-Collins_Reeds Solicitors
Saifalee Doolooa-Collins
Reeds Solicitors
Saifalee set up her firm’s family law department a decade ago and now leads its busy team. She specialises in childcare and complex children litigation, including where children have died as a result of non-accidental injuries. She ‘always puts others first and has a real sense of justice running through her’.
Victoria Jones
Victoria has a long history of working with organisations supporting domestic abuse victims in South Wales and also acts in complex children law cases. Clients are always treated with care and understanding. She is ‘brilliant, responsive and very easy to talk to’.
Social welfare law sponsored by Doughty Street Chambers
Description: Chris Johnson_The Community Law Partnership
Chris Johnson
The Community Law Partnership
Chris is founder of his Birmingham firm’s Travellers Advice Team, providing legal support to Gypsies and Travellers across England and Wales. He is at the forefront of legal challenges to local authorities using borough-wide injunctions against ‘persons unknown’ to deny Travellers from camping on any public land.
Description: Jamila Duncan-Bosu_Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit
Jamila Duncan-Bosu
Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit
Jamila is described as a ‘legal aid warrior’. She brings cases against traffickers and also wins financial compensation for trafficking victims via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which allows them to start rebuilding their lives.
Description: Jess Haley_Bristol Law Centre
Jess Haley
Bristol Law Centre
Jess is a housing lawyer, acting in a wide range of cases including possession and homelessness appeals. In one notable case, she saved a tenant from homelessness who was facing eviction by his landlord due to hoarding, by securing expert evidence showing his hoarding was linked to a disability.
Public law sponsored by One Pump Court
Description: Emma Vincent Miller_Public Law Project
Emma Vincent Miller
Public Law Project
Emma has had an amazing year. Following CR, adoptive parents are no longer means-tested when applying for legal aid in SEND tribunal cases; in K, the court ruled the Department for Work and Pensions could not claw back benefit overpayments caused by its repeated mistakes. K says: ‘I don’t trust anyone easily, but I knew I could confide in Emma.’
Description: Nusrat Uddin_Wilson Solicitors LLP
Nusrat Uddin
Wilson Solicitors LLP
Nusrat acts for survivors of modern slavery and trafficking. Her Supreme Court case of Basfar v Wong established that diplomatic immunity does not offer protection from liability for treating domestic workers as modern slaves. A barrister says: ‘Her work has helped people where, until recently, the law offered them no protection at all.’
Description: Stephanie Hill_Leigh Day
Stephanie Hill
Leigh Day
Stephanie has dedicated her practice to protecting the rights of migrants and foreign national prisoners. The work is difficult and demanding, and the clients are often intensely vulnerable. A client who was being unlawfully detained says: ‘She helped me when I was in a desperate situation and when no one else would.’
Criminal defence sponsored by DG Legal
Description: Aneka Thirurajah_Hodge Jones & Allen
Aneka Thirurajah
Hodge Jones & Allen
Aneka, who qualified in 2021, is the ‘lynchpin’ for HJA’s Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry team, and is also acting for core participants in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. She is a police station and court duty solicitor, and has a strong record of successfully defending climate protestors. A colleague says: ‘She has the gift of listening to the needs of others.’
Description: Catherine Bond_SL5 Legal
Catherine Bond
SL5 Legal
Catherine specialises in prison law, an area that has seen unprecedented levels of change and challenge over recent months. She represents life prisoners and those serving indefinite imprisonment for public protection sentences. One IPP prisoner says she is ‘a shining beacon in the darkest parts of society’.
Legal aid barrister sponsored by The Bar Council
Description: Antonia Benfield_Doughty Street Chambers
Antonia Benfield
Doughty Street Chambers
Antonia specialises in refugee and asylum law, and children’s rights, and is known for bringing landmark cases involving age disputes. These cases are always hard fought but Antonia also ensures her clients come first. She is described as ‘warm and empathetic, but always candid when giving advice’.
Description: David Gardner_No5 Chambers
David Gardner
No5 Chambers
David’s practice encompasses judicial review, with community care, education and healthcare, before the Administrative Court, as well as Court of Protection health and welfare cases. He has also championed the need to establish a body of expert lawyers able to advise clients whose cases involve devolved issues, straddling English and Welsh law.
Description: Kathryn Cronin_Garden Court Chambers
Kathryn Cronin
Garden Court Chambers
Kathryn has expert knowledge of the intersection between family and immigration law, and frequently advises on international adoptions and surrogacy, and transnational care and child placement arrangements. She is ‘a fearless barrister who has unfailingly held authorities to account during her distinguished career’.
Immigration and asylum law sponsored by Garden Court Chambers
Description: Alison Stanley_Bindmans LLP
Alison Stanley
Bindmans LLP
Alison is a pioneering immigration solicitor, revered by her colleagues and peers. Over the years, her work has secured protection for countless people, reunited families and changed lives for the better. She is praised as a ‘stalwart’ of the immigration law community who has ‘trained generations of the best practitioners’.
Description: Daniel Merriman_Wilson Solicitors LLP
Daniel Merriman
Wilson Solicitors LLP
Daniel’s cases last year include acting for RM who, in June 2022, was threatened with removal to Rwanda. A KC says it was ‘a challenging and complex piece of litigation involving not only novel legal issues and strategic decision-making, but incredible time pressure, difficult political context and, most importantly, the need to keep the client at the heart of all decisions’.
Description: Nath Gbikpi_Leigh Day
Nath Gbikpi
Leigh Day
Nath acts in immigration and asylum cases involving public law. Her 2022 case of AM was a turning point in access to justice for so-called ‘stranded spouses’, where foreign national wives who are dependent on their husbands for financial support are abandoned in their country of origin with no way of returning to the UK. She is ‘a thoroughly brilliant human being’.
Legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency sponsored by The Law Society
Description: Central England Law Centre
Central England Law Centre
This busy and growing Law Centre holds legal aid contracts in housing, discrimination, family, community care, public law, welfare benefits, and immigration and asylum law. Last year, its 65 staff members, including 10 solicitors who completed their training at the Law Centre, opened 800 new legal aid cases. A client says: ‘You really are the true superheroes.’
Description: Deighton Pierce Glynn
Deighton Pierce Glynn
DPG is nominated for its work for Afghan nationals who were refused relocation to the UK through official government schemes. A man whose father worked with British authorities in Afghanistan wrote: ‘Now we are in a safe place in comfort and peace. The services of these powerful lawyers will be recorded in my life history.’
Description: Watkins & Gunn
Watkins & Gunn
This Cardiff-based firm recently expanded into education law to end an advice desert in Wales and the South West, and last year helped secure specialist education provision for 35 children. It continues to play a key role in the UK-wide Infected Blood Inquiry, and its judicial reviews last year included acting for campaigners to save Rainhill Library.
Regional legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency sponsored by The Legal Education Foundation
Description: Butler & Co
Butler & Co
Based in Taunton, this small boutique firm specialises in mental health and mental capacity law. Cases last year included acting for a 23-year-old diagnosed with a behavioural disorder, who was deprived of his liberty in a care home for older people, and wanted to move to have more independence and live with people his own age.
Description: Fountain Solicitors
Fountain Solicitors
Fountain has five offices across the UK, and holds legal aid contracts in immigration and asylum, family law, public law and crime. It acted for Lawand, a profoundly deaf five-year-old Iraqi Kurdish boy who fled to the UK with his family and faced deportation. Now age 12, Lawand attends the Royal School for the Deaf Derby.
Description: Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
GMIAU is an ‘oasis of legal aid provision in the desert of the North West’, with a large team of experienced solicitors and caseworkers. It prides itself on being at the heart of its local community to fight racism, secure safety for those at risk and unite families. It advises around 5,000 people each year and is praised for being ‘consistently exceptional’.
Outstanding achievement sponsored by Matrix Chambers
There is no shortlist for this award.
The Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards are organised on a not-for-profit basis by Legal Aid Practitioners Group. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in central London on 12 July.
Tickets available via:
LAG is media partner of the LALY awards.