Solicitors Journal Legal Personality of the Year 2017 shortlist revealed
Six solicitors in the running for the coveted legal award
The countdown for the Solicitors Journal Awards: Recognising excellence in legal practice continues with the shortlist for 2017's Legal Personality of the Year Award.
Six solicitors are in the running for the coveted legal award following judging by our extensive panel, which includes Sir Henry Brooke, John Cooper QC, and last year's winner, Felicity Gerry QC.
The shortlist for Legal Personality was decided on by the Solicitors Journal editorial team, who considered lawyers that had performed exceptional case work over the past 12 months, represented the profession in a positive light to the public, and/or championed a legal cause.
Shubha Banerjee, an associate solicitor, specialises in employment and trade union law at Leigh Day. Banerjee represented 204 judges in their claim against the Lord Chancellor for unlawful age, race, and sex discrimination and equal pay following changes made to their pension entitlements by the Ministry of Justice.
The London Central Employment Tribunal upheld the claims in January 2017 after finding that the Lord Chancellor and MoJ have treated and continue to treat the claimants less favourably than their comparators because of their age and failed to show their treatment to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
The decision could have ramifications for other public sector groups, such as police officers, teachers, firefighters, and prison officers, who have been subjected to similar negative changes to their pensions.
Rebekah Carrier is a solicitor and director of Hopkin Murray Beskine and a specialist in housing and public law. She has a particular interest in the housing needs of families with disabled children, and also works with women's refuges and voluntary organisations supporting refugees and victims of trafficking.
Carrier has acted in several challenges to the government's welfare reform policies and was shortlisted for Liberty's Human Rights Lawyer of the Year Award 2016 for this work. Recent cases include A v SSWP, which challenged the application of the 'bedroom tax' policy to a vulnerable victim of serious domestic violence living in a home specially adapted under the 'sanctuary scheme' to provide protection. In giving judgment in November 2016 a majority of the Supreme Court explicitly recognised the positive duty on the state to protect victims of gender-based violence, while deciding not to proscribe the means by which the state should provide that protection. That decision is to be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
Rebekah is currently acting for several lone parent families with children under the age of two in a judicial review of the reduced benefit cap introduced in November 2016. The challenge is brought on the basis that the failure to exempt such families from the cap is discriminatory and unlawful. The case is listed in the High Court in May 2017.
Jo Hickman, solicitor and director of national legal charity Public Law Project, led the team that challenged the government's proposals to introduce a residence test for civil legal aid. The case went to the heart of the principle that all those who are subject to English law are equal before it. PLP won in the divisional court but lost on appeal. The case went to the Supreme Court, where it had been scheduled for a two-day hearing in April 2016. In an unprecedented move, seven justices found that the government did not have the power to make the proposed change after hearing just one day of evidence.
The PLP team also brought important test cases concerning the accessibility of the safety net 'exceptional funding' scheme and on legal aid for victims of domestic violence.
Nigel Mackay, an associate at Leigh Day, represented a group of Uber drivers claiming minimum workers' rights. The case was the first serious test of the limits of the gig economy. The London Central Employment Tribunal found in October 2016 that the drivers were not self-employed and that they were entitled to the national minimum wage and to paid holiday. More drivers have joined the original claimants in seeking back payments and other gig economy workers are seeking to secure increased rights too. This has led to the government setting up a review of employment practices, with recommendations expected in June.
Gareth Mitchell is a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn as well as a part-time tribunal judge. Mitchell acted for Denise Brewster after she was denied payments from her late partner's occupational pension. Brewster and her partner Lenny McMullan had been living together for 15 years when McMullan died suddenly, shortly after the two had got engaged. Had they been married, Brewster would automatically have qualified to share McMullan's pension. It was successfully argued before five justices of the Supreme Court that this was discriminatory, an outcome that has opened the door to a change in the law regarding equality for cohabiting couples.
Marcia Willis Stewart
Marcia Willis Stewart, managing partner at Birnberg Peirce & Partners, was made an honorary QC in 2017. The lead lawyer of a 32-strong legal team, she acted for 77 families at the historic Hillsborough inquiry. In 2016 the jury in the longest-running inquest in UK history concluded that it was the actions of South Yorkshire police that had been the principal cause of the stadium disaster and that the 96 victims had been unlawfully killed.
Willis Stewart has also acted for the family of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by police in 2005, and for the family of Mark Duggan, whose death in Tottenham in 2011 sparked widespread rioting across the UK. In 2015 she was named Public Law Solicitor of the Year at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards. She was also voted Outstanding Lawyer of the Year at the UK Diversity Legal Awards 2016.
The awards ceremony will be held on 17 May 2017 at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London. The evening will include a drinks reception, three-course dinner, the awards ceremony, and the awards after party. Find out more about the awards and see the full shortlist here.
To find out more about attending the awards ceremony please contact Ciaran McManus on +44 (0)207 549 8673 or email email@example.com.
Follow @SJ_awards for more news on the awards and the live results on 17 May.