Human rights

Q&A with Mathew Evans, our Human Rights Solicitor of the Year 2020

Our Human Rights Solicitor of the Year 2020, Matthew Evans, talks to us about his experience of winning the Law Society award last year and some of his proudest achievements to date.

In 2021 we introduced four new categories to the Law Society Awards. The new awards are designed to showcase best practice in:

  • ethical standards

  • practice promotion

  • practice management

  • the rule of law

Find out more about the Law Society Awards 2021

One category which is not new for 2021, but which is equally important, is our Human Rights Solicitor of the Year award. This award celebrates outstanding achievements in human rights.

It celebrates solicitors whose sheer determination and dedication has made an exceptional contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights. This can be through long-term activity or from a single outstanding case.

Matthew EvansOur Human Rights Solicitor of the Year 2020 is Matthew Evans, director of the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe (AIRE) Centre, a specialist legal charity.

Find out more about the AIRE Centre

Through his work, Matthew has helped reshape the law in a broad range of important fields to deliver impact for hundreds of thousands of people. He has skilfully defended the rule of law and ensured state authority is used in a legally accountable way.

Matthew has had a prolific career. He has been involved in over a dozen cases before the UK Supreme Court. Most recently he has been involved with:

  • rulings concerning what amounts to ‘lawful residence’ under free movement law
  • a judgment which clarifies the law governing the identification and treatment of victims of trafficking and modern slavery

Congratulations on winning our Human Rights Solicitor of the Year award back in October. How did you feel when you won? How did you celebrate?

To be honest, when they read out the description of the winner, I thought it was referring to one of the other nominees, so I’d consigned myself to losing.

That somehow made it all the more surprising when they announced my name.

Obviously lockdown was happening, so I celebrated with my partner and three teenage daughters, who I would have wanted to celebrate with anyway (and with a couple of glasses of wine, of course).  

How has the work you do benefited individuals or groups of individuals?

The AIRE Centre represents individuals and looks to take cases where systematic violations of the law may be occurring. Both are equally important.

Often it is the individual stories that stick most in your mind, but I have been pleased with the work we have done on the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) over the last year or so. That work has really supported thousands of people regularising their immigration status in the UK, and hopefully stopped a lot of sleepless nights.

Cases such as the landmark judgment in AM (Zimbabwe), are also obviously satisfying, given they move the law on from where it used to be.     

How does the rule of law underpin what you do?

The AIRE Centre undertakes mainly third-party interventions in the higher domestic courts – upholding the rule of law is at the centre of that.

The UK courts remain, in the words of Sir Stephen Sedley, “lions under the throne of parliament.”

The AIRE Centre does not intervene to overturn UK legislation, instead our aim is to persuade the court on the correctness of how we believe particular legislation or case law should be interpreted.

As an intervener, we are therefore looking to assist the scrutiny by the courts of the executive, and ultimately ensure democracy is enhanced.

What is your proudest achievement to date?

Whilst at Prisoners' Advice Service, I was representing someone on an imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentence.

Their parole hearing was very delayed, they had been subject to prison disciplinary proceedings, and now found themselves moved from open to closed conditions through no fault of their own.

Judicial reviews brought about his parole hearing, and the quashing of his adjudication (a complete vindication).

I then represented him at his parole hearing, where he had been told by various people he had no chance of release. Reading his parole release was both nerve-wracking and joyous; 10 years later he is still free and doing well.

At the AIRE Centre, my proudest achievement was representing someone who had lost their job due to ill health, and then been denied social assistance benefits.

We successfully represented her at the Upper Tribunal, and used the judgment in a case called Gubeladze (which we had intervened in at the UK Supreme Court) to get her permanent residence.

We recently helped her get settled status, completing the circle, and ensuring that she can remain supported and in the UK, a place she has called home for over 15 years. 

What attracted you to practicing law?

I would like to say reading To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was actually watching LA Law, a TV series set in and around the fictitious Los Angeles-based law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak.

As a teenager growing up and going to school in E17, it was all impossibly glamorous. 

What is the mission of the AIRE Centre and how does the law fit into this?

The AIRE Centre uses the power of European law to protect individual fundamental rights, both in the UK and elsewhere.

We have always taken an approach that this is best done and defended through:

  • individual advice
  • impact/strategic litigation
  • focusing on providing technical assistance in jurisdictions working to apply European standards

What difficulties have you faced in your practice and how have you overcome these?

Brexit is the most obvious, given what we do. However, although things will change, European and EU law still has an important part to play in UK law.

It is now just trying to work out how this can best be achieved and in what areas.     

What do you think are the biggest day-to-day challenges currently facing the area in which you practice?

Working remotely is a challenge.

Although our model of legal advice delivery fits quite well into remote working practices, we also run an internship programme.

Our interns have missed out on the usual office interaction, learning from each other and the AIRE Centre team, which is a big part of starting out as a lawyer.     

What issues are you currently working on?

We continue to look at supporting vulnerable groups (such as children in care) with applying under the EUSS, and to assist British nationals who want to continue to be able to reside in EU countries.

We are due to appear in the UK Supreme Court in a challenge to people with pre-settled status denied access to social assistance. This is part of a wider look at how the EUSS operates and potentially excludes certain groups.

We remain committed and have a number of cases in the European Court of Human Rights where we are assisting: 

  • trafficking victims
  • refugees
  • LGBTI groups       

Finally, what tips would you give to entrants of the Law Society Awards in your category?

Keep believing – I was shortlisted in 2017 and 2018 so good things come to those that wait (and apply).

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