Legal aid

Awards recognise legal aid heroes

The tireless efforts of legal aid lawyers got deserved recognition at Tuesday night’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.

In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) hosted the annual awards virtually, for the second time.

Jenny Beck, a member of the Access to Justice Committee at the Law Society of England and Wales and co-chair of the LAPG, kicked off proceedings by praising the exceptional work of those in the legal aid sector and exclaimed the pandemic has shone a light “on the horrors of our underfunded system”.

“The pandemic has highlighted exactly why we need social justice lawyers who doggedly fight for their clients,” she added.

Cris McCurley, also on the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee, received the award for family legal aid lawyer of the year. She was praised for her work at Ben Hoare Bell, particularly supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic women and children, as well as her campaign work fighting for systemic changes.

The Law Society sponsored the legal aid firm award, which recognises the contribution of a law firm or non-profit organisation to legal aid. MJC Law took home the gong for their work in the areas of Court of Protection, mental health and community care.

This year saw a new award dedicated to those working in disability rights which was scooped up by Kirsty Stuart, a public law and human rights associate at Irwin Mitchell.

Other notable wins include Law Centre Northern Ireland which took home the award for regional legal aid firm or non-profit agency, and the award for outstanding achievement which went to Adam Hundt at Deighton Pierce Glynn and Alex Goodman at Landmark Chambers.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “Congratulations to all the winners and those who were shortlisted, who like so many others working in legal aid, deserve recognition for their outstanding efforts.

“Legal aid lawyers were operating valiantly in a highly challenging environment even before the pandemic and now more than ever there is a need for investment to ensure legal representation is available to those without the means to provide it.

“People living below the poverty line are regularly denied legal aid by a too stringent means test and many others face legal issues such as in housing, employment and family law with no recourse because of cuts to legal aid.

“Legal aid deserts must be ended with civil and criminal practitioners being paid properly for their work which is crucial to providing access to justice and the rule of law.”

The Law Society has many times voiced the need for an increase in legal aid funding.

Note to editors

The Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards, hosted annually by Legal Aid Practitioners Guild (LAPG), recognise the work of legal professionals, firms, and non-profit agencies working in the field of legal aid.

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