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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

LALYs go online for first time

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LALYs go online for first time

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LAPG's Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards winners appear via video link

LAPG's Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards were broadcast on social media for this first time this year, with the award winners joining via video link.

The 18th year of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards took place as scheduled on 7 July but covid-19 restrictions meant the 2020 event had to take place online.

The LALY awards are usually staged at a central London venue, attended by over 500 guests, including finalists and their supporters, plus other leading legal figures.

More than 800 people registered to watch the live YouTube broadcast, and two days after the ceremony, it had been viewed more than 2300 times.

LAPG CEO Chris Minnoch said: “We saw this as an opportunity to create our most inclusive ceremony yet, while still retaining the essence of the LALYs, which is to be a wholehearted, unabashed, celebration of the work of social justice lawyers.

“The pandemic has been shattering for the legal aid sector and their clients, so it felt more important than ever this year to recognise the value of their work.”

The 2020 awards were compered by broadcaster Anna Jones, for the fifth year running, who was joined on stage by domestic abuse campaigner David Challen.

Challen led the successful campaign for the release from prison of his mother Sally Challen, after her murder conviction was overturned on appeal.

The solicitor in the case, Harriet Wistrich, is a former LALY award winner, and Challen paid tribute to Wistrich and all legal aid lawyers.

Speaking live on video link as she accepted her award for Mental Capacity law, Sheree Green, of Greenchurch Legal in Stoke on Trent, described the impact of covid-19 on her elderly clients.

“We had managed really well until mid-April, when sadly we lost our first client to covid-19, and then regrettably, one a week for the next seven weeks. It's been very hard for families. It's been challenging trying to support people through that”, she said.

Belfast-based KRW Law won the inaugural Regional Legal Aid firm/not-for-profit award, in recognition of its work for people from all communities who have suffered loss or injustice as a result of Northern Ireland's long history of conflict.

Niall Murphy, who accepted the firm's award, said he had spent 16 days in an induced coma after contracting the virus during a trip to New York.

The Outstanding Achievement award went to Mike McIlvaney, partner and founder of Community Law Partnership in Birmingham.

Mike was honoured by the LALY judges for his 30-year career as a housing lawyer, and in particular for his long battle on behalf of his client Terryann Samuels, which culminated in a successful Supreme Court ruling in 2019.

McIlvaney described how, for five years, the Legal Aid Agency had second-guessed the legal team and repeatedly blocked funding for what turned out to be a landmark case.

The barrister who worked alongside McIlvaney in the Samuels case, James Stark from Garden Court North, was also honoured during the lockdown LALYs, taking the award for Legal Aid Barrister of the year.

Winners in full:

1. Mental capacity - sponsored by Bidwell Henderson

Sheree Green – Greenchurch Legal

2. Immigration & asylum - sponsored by Doughty Street Chambers

Tori Sicher – Sutovic Hartigan

3. Legal aid newcomer - sponsored by Friends of LALY20

Siobhan Taylor-Ward – Merseyside Law Centre

4. Criminal defence - sponsored by DG Legal

Philippa Southwell – Birds Solicitors

5. Legal aid barrister - sponsored by the Bar Council

James Stark – Garden Court North

6. Family legal aid - sponsored by Resolution

Kate Hammond – Miles & Partners

7. Legal aid firm/Not-for-profit agency - sponsored by the Law Society

South West London Law Centres

8. Regional legal aid firm/Not-for-profit agency - sponsored by the Legal Education Foundation

KRW Law

9. Social welfare law - sponsored by Tikit

Simon Mullings – Edwards Duthie Shamash

10. Public law - sponsored by Irwin Mitchell

Dean Kingham – Swain & Co

11. Team - sponsored by Accesspoint

Joint Council Welfare for the Welfare of Immigrants

12. Outstanding achievement - sponsored by Matrix Chambers

Mike McIlvaney - Community Law Partnership

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