Doreen Lawrence OBE and solicitor Imran Khan were both recognised for their contribution to justice at the 2012 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards. Imran Khan, the solicitor who began representing Doreen Lawrence and her family two days after Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993, was presented with the award for Outstanding Achievement. Doreen Lawrence, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice since her son’s death, was presented with the LALY 10th Anniversary Special Award.
The human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC chaired the judging panel and presented the panel at an event attended by over 400 lawyers. He called the LAYS ‘a testament of the ability of lawyers to work hand in hand with the community’. Presenting the 10th Anniversary Special Award award to and the first non-lawyer to be honoured, the silk said: ‘Doreen is, in a sense, here representing the public.’ She was described as ‘a touchstone for lawyers and others who believe in justice’ by the compere John Howard. Howard called Imran Khan ‘one of the most creative and dogged lawyers around. This is a lawyer who throughout their career has refused to give up even though it appears all legal avenues have been exhausted and that there isn’t really anything more that can be done.’
‘This is a lawyer who believes in justice in the wider sense not just a narrow legalistic sense of the word – if the law has run out of remedies but the person at the heart of the case, the client, has been wronged and has still not been properly served, it is the law that needs to change its thinking, not the client.’
Doreen Lawrence paid tribute to Imran Khan describing the solicitor as her ‘rock’. ‘If it had not been for Imran supporting me all the way, I do not think we would have achieved what we did,’ she said.
Khan himself recalled as an aspiring lawyer going to the public gallery at the Old Bailey and watching ‘Mike Mansfield defending seven Asian men accused of violent disorder’, adding that it was ‘incredible’ to receive an award from him. Khan ‘quoted, probably mis-quoted’ Confucius saying ‘that if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a single day of your life’. ‘I haven’t worked for the last 20 years,’ he added.
Not a time to walk away
Michael Mansfield attacked the Coalition government and its Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 calling for ‘a collective uprising’. ‘I’m not going to catalogue the litany of the shame the government has bought upon you. It would be easy to walk away thinking it was over but I do not think anybody thinks it’s over,’ he said. ‘Quite the opposite. The political and legal battle must be engaged. This bill, now Act, cannot be allowed to stand. Don’t believe just because it has been passed we have to sit down and rollover.’
The silk argued that LASPO contained a provision ‘allowing the Lord Chancellor to add services’ and to ‘amend vary or repeal’. ‘This government is on very thin ice. It seems to me that this is exactly the time for the pressure to be increased, not decreased.’
This was a government that repeatedly ‘changed its mind’, Mansfield said. ‘It isn’t just pasties and caravans, but it’s secret justice as well. We have to make it happen for legal aid.’
The winners at this year’s LALYs:
- 10th Anniversary Special Award: Doreen Lawrence OBE
- Outstanding Achievement: Imran Khan, Imran Khan & Partners
- Criminal Defence: Raj Chada, of Hodge Jones & Allen, who acted for ‘Jonnie Marbles’, the man who attacked Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie during a parliamentary hearing; and also won acquittals for protestors who staged a peaceful ‘sit-in’ at Fortnum & Mason during the 2011 TUC demonstration.
- Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit: Turpin & Miller, an Oxford firm which offers a wide range of legal aid services and prides itself on taking on groundbreaking cases. Its lawyers have been active in campaigning against the legal aid cuts.
- Family Legal Aid Lawyer: Rachel Horman, of Watson Ramsbottom. Rachel set up of her firm’s domestic violence department and was recognised as having worked tirelessly over many years to protect the rights of victims and their children.
- Mental Health: Mike Bishop, of David Gray. ‘It’s not just clients that get the gold star treatment, families, carers and the clinical team all benefit from Mike’s involvement in the case,’ wrote one mental health professional from his local NHS trust in support of his nomination.
- Social & Welfare: Rosaleen Kilbane, of Community Law Partnership. Rosaleen was praised for her ‘humanity and incredible commitment’.
- Immigration: Liz Barratt, of Bindmans LLP, was recognised for her work challenging the removal of children from the UK. Her nomination was supported by a former asylum client who went on to train as a social worker.
The award was sponsored by LegalVoice
- Legal Aid Barrister: Leslie Thomas, of Garden Court, who often acts for bereaved families at inquests. Leslie was described as being ‘in a league of his own in achieving a very close working relationship with lay clients but at the same time maintaining a professional distance’.
- Young Legal Aid Solicitor: Jed Pennington, of Bhatt Murphy, was recognised for his work exposing systematic failures in the treatment of the mentally ill people by the UK border agency.
- Young Legal Aid Barrister: Shu Shin Luh, of Garden Court Chamber. One supporter said of the barrister ‘her work transforms lives, protects the rights of vulnerable and ensures local authorities are brought to task’.
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