A Leicester-based firm with all-female management and the first British Yemeni lawyer in England and Wales were among the winners of the biggest event on the legal aid calendar.
Hundreds of lawyers gathered in central London last night for the 20e Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards, the first in-person ceremony since 2019 due to the pandemic.
The ceremony began with young legal aid lawyers and attorney Marcia Willis-Stewart, managing director of human rights firm Birnberg Peirce, receiving the ‘winner of winners’ awards.
Willis-Stewart represented victims of the Hillsborough disaster and currently represents victims of the Grenfell fire. Picking up her award, she said: “At a time when we face so much hardship, I would like to take a moment to think of all the people we have loved and lost.”
Ciara Bartlam of Garden Court North Chambers, former president of Young Legal Aid Lawyers, won the Newcomer to Legal Aid award. The client behind her nomination joined her on stage., saying, ‘The work [you did] – That says everything. The work you do is simply phenomenal.
David Neale, of Garden Court Chambers, and Lesley Kennedy Neal, practice secretary at Wilson Solicitors, were co-winners of Legal Aid Support Staff, a new award.
Huge cheers from the crowd erupted when One Pump Court’s Amean Elgadhy, the first British Yemeni barrister in England and Wales, was appointed as a legal aid barrister.
“A team of fabulous women,” said Baroness Helena Kennedy as she presented the Regional Legal Aid Firm/Non-Profit Agency Award to Johnson Asstills. The firm, which specializes in criminal law and family law, is run by an all-female management.
Qaisar Sheikh, head of education at the Coram Children’s Law Center, won the public law award. Asked about the challenges of the lockdown, he said many of the children the organization had helped had mental health issues. “Being isolated at home makes it worse. Just helping them get back on track has been a huge privilege for me.
The Outstanding Achievement Award went to Zia Nabi of Doughty Street Chambers. He told the audience he was “honoured, humbled and puzzled” by the award. “Baffling because I’m just doing my job.”
Being a legal aid lawyer was a privilege, he says. “You can spend your life doing something you really care about.”
Full list of winners:
Newcomer to legal aid – Ciara Bartlam, Garden Court North Chambers
Legal aid support officer – David Neale, Garden Court Chambers, Lesley Kennedy Neal, Wilson Solicitors
Rights of persons with disabilities –Anna Moore, Leigh Day
Family law – Grace Bradley, The Family Law Society
criminal defense – Laura O’Brien, Hodge Jones & Allen
Legal aid lawyer – Amean Elgadhy, One Pump Court
Legal aid firm/non-profit organization – UCL Integrated Legal Clinic
Regional legal aid firm/non-profit organization –Johnson Astills
public law – Qaisar Sheikh, Coram Children’s Legal Center
Social protection law – Chris McKendry, Wilson Solicitors
housing law – Rajea Sultana, Miles & Partners
Outstanding Achievements – Zia Nabi, Doughty Street Chambers
winner of winners: Young Legal Aid Lawyers, Marcia Willis-Stewart