Justcie Watch: LALY 2019 winners

LALY winners in full
The human rights lawyer who acted in the ‘right to die’ and assisted suicide cases brought by Debbie Purdy and Tony Nicklinson has won the outstanding achievement at this week’s Legal Aid of the Year awards.

Paul Bowen QC, of Brick Court Chambers, thanked his ‘legal aid heroes’ who were his clients. ‘I want to thank the solicitors and clients who trusted me enough to instruct me in some fascinating and important cases for some of them at the most difficult times of their lives,’ he said.

It was the 17th LALYs ceremony, organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, presented by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. ‘I am a proud legal aid lawyer,’ Kennedy told the audience. ‘We are all guardians of the rule of law. More power to your elbow.’

Paul Bowen paid particular tribute to Dr Sara Ryan, whose 18-year-old son Connor Sparrowhawk drowned in the bath at a specialist NHS unit, as well as Graham and Wendy Enderby, the couple behind the ground-breaking 2004 case HL v UK.

‘Sara’s campaign to establish the truth about his entirely preventable death has inspired many others to press for improved community services for learning disabled people, and greater accountability when their loved ones die in institutions that are supposed to care for them.’
Paul Bowen QC

The LAPG committee also chose to make three special awards to recognise the contributions of District Judge Anselm Eldergill, One Pump Court barrister Rachel Francis and Irwin Mitchell solicitor Oliver Carter.

LALY19 WINNERS IN FULL

  1. Outstanding achievement (sponsored by Matrix Chambers): Paul Bowen QC
  2. Public law (sponsored by Irwin Mitchell): Raja Rajeswaran Uruthiravinayagan, Duncan Lewis Solicitors
  3. Criminal defence (sponsored by DG Legal): Lydia Dagostino, Kellys Solicitors
  4. Access to justice through IT (sponsored by The Legal Education Foundation): FormShare, GT Stewart
  5. Legal aid firm/Not-for-profit agency (sponsored by The Law Society): Child Poverty Action Group
  6. Legal aid practice management (sponsored by Accesspoint): Sally Thompson, Luqmani Thompson & Partners
  7. Social welfare law (sponsored by Tikit): William Ford, Osbornes Law
  8. Family legal aid – including mediation (sponsored by Resolution): Philip Wilkins, Hudgell & Partners
  9. Legal aid barrister (sponsored by The Bar Council): Joanne Cecil, Garden Court Chambers
  10. Children’s rights (sponsored by Anthony Gold Solicitors): Edward Taylor, Osbornes Law
  11. Legal aid newcomer (sponsored by Friends of LALY19): Una Morris, Garden Court Chambers

Return of the CLAF
Lady Justice Hallett urged the City to consider funding access to justice for vulnerable people or risk ‘permanent damage to the UK’s peerless reputation for upholding the rule of law’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette.

Hallett said many of the profession’s ‘worst fears’ over LASPO had been realised and judges were ‘struggling to cope with a tsunami of litigants in person’.

’If LASPO is not to be repealed, we have to explore new ways to provide representation for the most vulnerable in their civil and family claims,’ Hallett said. ‘And we have to persuade the government that the criminal justice system must not be allowed to perish.’

Hallett LJ described the amount of money needed to improve the publicly funded justice system as ‘tiny’, adding: ‘I have long promoted a contingent legal aid fund [CLAF] as one of way of providing funding for meritorious civil cases, but so far the project has stalled, probably for lack of capital to establish it. It may be the City of London might wish to explore the possibility, given there seems to be money to be made in the funding of litigation these days.’

Happy anniversary
Jeremy Corbyn reminded Theresa May that this year was legal aid’s 70th anniversary and of the impact of the LASPO cuts. ‘Does the prime minister think that has helped or hindered the fight against burning injustices?’ the Labour party’s leader asked.

‘We spent £1.6bn on legal aid last year,’ May said. ‘We are committing to ensuring that people can access the help they need into the future, but that is only one part of the picture. We have published a plan for legal support, to maintain and improve access to support for those in need, and we are conducting a fundamental review of criminal legal aid fee schemes, which will consider criminal legal aid throughout the life cycle of a criminal case.’

May went to say that there were aspects that ‘we are indeed looking at, but it is important that we ensure that we are careful with the provisions we make for legal aid, and as I say, a quarter of the MOJ budget is spent on legal aid.’

But, quickly enough (as Labour List noted), this session of prime minister’s questions ‘collapsed into a back-and-forth about whose party was the most racist’.

In ‘a classic deflection move’, May said: ‘If the Rt Hon Gentleman is really interested in tackling injustice, then the biggest injustice he should tackle is in his own Labour Party and deal with antisemitism.’

Legal aid for the bereaved
The prime minister has committed to ‘simplify’ the funding regime for legal aid for bereaved families in inquests. In response to a question by the Conservative MP Alex Chalk made in relation to two constituents who were relatives of one of the victims of the London Bridge attack, Theresa May said her government were ‘committed to simplifying the process for applying for exceptional case funding’.

Helen Boniface and Yasmin Waljee OBE of Hogan Lovells argued on the Justice Gap that legal aid must be available as of right and raised the case of Kirsty Boden and Alexandre Pigeard. Alex Chalk also drew attention to Kirsty Boden.

‘Despite the fact that at least one of the terrorists’ families received legal aid for representation at the inquest, none of the victims’ families did,’ the MP for Cheltenham said during prime minister’s question time. ‘Does my right hon. Friend think that we need to look again at the entitlement to legal aid for inquests, so that those people who wish to ask questions about what happened to their loved ones are not left to fend for themselves?’

‘One of the many lessons to be learned though is that legal aid must be available as of right for bereaved families at terrorism inquests. Even though these inquests have just concluded, the Government has still not decided whether to grant bereaved families Legal Aid. The only thing they have said is that ‘the wider public interest is not served by families having representation’. This seems extraordinary. As both lawyers and engaging our innate humanity we cannot understand this.’
Helen Boniface and Yasmin Waljee OBE

More than 10,000 people have now signed up to a petition launched last weekcalling for legal aid for inquests launched by the Kirsty Boden’s partner James Hodder. You can sign here.

 

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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