Thursday, 27 May 2010
Legal aid winners
Awards ceremonies can be tedious, but last night's Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards proved to be inspiring and surprising, with the winners all demonstrating great commitment to their clients and an instant government response to a legal question.
'His devotion to his clients is routinely exceptional' was one of the comments made by a fellow lawyer who nominated David Jockelson, a solicitor at Miles & Partners. Jockelson, who also qualified as a therapist to assist in his work, won family legal aid lawyer of the year. Kathy Meade, a solicitor at Tower Hamlets Law Centre, won social welfare lawyer of the year and gave an impromptu speech that spoke to the hearts of all in the audience, made up of legal aid lawyers and luminaries from the legal world. She could not help reflecting on the plight of a client who had been referred to her by the social services department just a few hours before she attended last night's event. She had to drop some other work she was doing to advise him, but she explained he was in a desperate state having been made homeless with six children. Having talked through his problems over the phone she made an emergency appointment to see him today: 'Law Centres have their backs to the wall and many have closed, but I will only be paid the housing fixed fee of £174. No way will my time be properly funded under the legal aid system for this case.'
Many of the lawyers nominated had worked on ground-breaking cases. Peter Mahy from Howells solicitors, who won the criminal defence lawyer award, challenged the government’s retention of DNA samples from people not convicted of a crime, on behalf of his clients. The case, S and Marper v UK, was lost at every level in the domestic courts before succeeding in the European Court of Human Rights. John McSweeney, who is the managing partner of Howells, accepting the award on behalf of Mahy, said: 'It just goes to show you can knock a legal aid lawyer down. Do it three times in a row as happened in this case and they will still get back up again.' The new Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, who was sitting in the front row of the audience was asked from the stage if the UK government would abide by the decision. To the surprise of the audience, Grieve shot back confirming that the government would. This commitment is in line with the coalition agreement published last week. After last night it seems that implementation is happening quicker than expected.
The LALYs, as the awards are known, have been running for eight years and are organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group. They recognise the achievements of legal aid lawyers in the front line of providing services in both criminal and civil legal aid. Legal Action magazine is the media partner for the awards. The other winners last night were Adam Straw from Tooks Chambers (young legal aid barrister), Katherine Craig from Christian Khan (young legal aid solicitor), Sophy Miles from Miles & Partners (mental health lawyer), Amie Henshall from Parker Rhodes Hickmotts (immigration lawyer), Mark Henderson from Doughty Street Chambers (legal aid barrister), Just for Kids Law/Lawrence & Co youth department (legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency) and Michael Mansfield QC (outstanding achievement award).
Photograph: Robert Aberman