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LALY win for Mark Duggan lawyer greeted with rapturous applause

Public Law Project takes top gong as CLSA and LCCSA chiefs honoured with LALY special award for campaigning against criminal legal aid cuts

2 July 2015

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The solicitor to the family of Mark Duggan was honoured at last night's Legal Aid Practitioners Group's (LAPG) Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards (LALYs).

Marcia Willis-Stewart, a London-based legal aid solicitor who acted for the family at the inquest into the 2011 police shooting of Duggan, whose death in Tottenham sparked widespread rioting across the UK, was named Public Law Solicitor of the year.

Willis-Stewart, who is the managing partner of Birnberg Peirce, was described by the LALY judges as 'bringing some of the highest profile, most highly charged, and important cases of our age'.

The legal aid champion also acted for the family of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by police in 2005 when they mistook him for a would-be suicide bomber. She is also representing the families of 75 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in the current inquest.

Despite the scale of her work, Willis-Stewart has maintained a relatively low profile. However, the announcement of her victory was met with loud cheering and a prolonged applause by the 400-strong audience at the awards in central London.

Outstanding achievement

The Public Law Project (PLP), a national legal charity which aims to improve access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged, received the evening's top award for Outstanding Achievement, in recognition of its role in fighting the legal aid cuts following a series of successful judicial reviews in 2014.

The LALY judges described these victories as 'bringing a few chinks of light' to practitioners during a challenging year.

PLP's successes include preventing implementation of the legal aid residence test (R (Public Law Project v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 2365 (Admin)); and a challenge to the 'no permission, no payment' regulations for publicly-funded judicial reviews (R (Ben Hoare Bell and ors) v Lord Chancellor [2015] EWHC 523 (Admin)); and having the Legal Aid Agency's exceptional case funding scheme declared unlawful (R (Gudanaviciene and ors) v Director of Legal Aid Casework [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin)).

Leading lights

The event also saw the leaders behind the ongoing challenge to government fee cuts for criminal defence firms honoured with the LAPG 'special award'.

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association's (CLSA) Bill Waddington and Robin Murray, and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association's (LCCSA) Jonathan Black and Paul Harris were presented with the special award for their tireless campaigning against reforms to criminal legal aid.

The award came on the day when a second 8.75 per cent fee cut was imposed.

LALY 2015 winners

LAPG committee special award: Bill Waddington, Robin Murray, Jonathan Black, Paul Harris

Outstanding achievement: Public Law Project

Public law: Marcia Willis-Stewart, Birnberg Peirce

Legal aid firm/not for profit agency: Central England Law Centre

Children's rights: Noel Arnold (Coram Children's Legal Centre)

Legal aid newcomer: Connor Johnston (Garden Court Chambers)

Social and welfare: Jo Renshaw (Turpin & Miller)

Family legal aid: Sarah Cove (Miles & Partners)

Family mediator: Margaret Pendlebury (MiD Mediation)

Legal aid barrister: Alison Pickup (Doughty Street)

Housing: Jayesh Kunwardia (Hodge Jones & Allen)

Criminal defence: Mark Ashford (TV Edwards)

Access to justice through IT: Courtnav (Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer)

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Legal Aid