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Wednesday, 24th May 2023

Law Centres celebrate a hat trick of ‘legal aid Oscars’ finalists!

Central England Law Centre (L), Jess Haley (top R) and Josie Hicklin (bottom R)

Three Law Centre nominees were shortlisted for the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards, it was announced on Friday.

The LALYs are known as the 'legal aid Oscars' and celebrate the excellence and dedication of those working in publicly funded legal services. They are awarded annually by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.

Law Centres and their staff have consistently been recognised at the LALYs since the first competition held in the early 2000s. Two former winners, Siobhan Taylor-Ward of Vauxhall Law Centre and Ursula O’Hare of Law Centre Northern Ireland, were also on the awards’ judging panel for the second year running.

Among our finalists are two Law Centre solicitors and one practice:

Legal Aid Newcomer: Josie Hicklin, Greater Manchester Law Centre

Josie’s work fighting for the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in society culminated at the end of 2022 in a victory at the High Court. She helped obtain an increase in government support for more than 50,000 asylum seeking adults and children who could not afford to meet their essential living needs—an exceptional achievement for a lawyer at any stage of their career, but especially for one in their first year since qualification.

Josie’s effective and committed approach shines through in all her cases, and she has also built relationships with front-line agencies and charities across Greater Manchester. They now know where to turn to for help when legal advice is urgently needed to avoid a client becoming homeless.

Lily Lewis, Barrister at Garden Court North Chambers, said:

“One of the many things that makes Josie exceptional is her ability to listen to her clients without judgement, to make them feel valued, and to connect with them on a genuine human level, often with her characteristic charm and sense of humour. Josie has helped many, many people in Greater Manchester to avoid homelessness or to come off the streets.”

Social Welfare Law: Jess Haley, Bristol Law Centre

In recent years, access to legal assistance with housing problems in Bristol has become much more difficult. Shockingly, the South West’s largest and most populous city was served by just three legal aid providers in 2020. Given this, Jess joined the Law Centre’s housing team at a crucial time, becoming its legal aid supervisor.  

Each week, Jess provides emergency advice and representation to those facing eviction. She can see over ten clients a day, with as little as five minutes’ preparation time. Still, she can present a judge with a solution that can be the difference between a tenant being evicted or staying in their home.

A client of Jess’s said:

“I don’t think I can overstate the value and impact Jess’s input had on my ability to successfully navigate this complex and, at times, highly challenging period of litigation. I also feel like I have learned an awful lot, and that is due in large part to the manner in which we communicated, and how thoroughly and comprehensively Jess consistently answered my queries and acknowledged my concerns.”

Legal Aid Firm/ Not-for-Profit Agency: Central England Law Centre

Central England Law Centre has expanded to offer legal work across the full range of social welfare law areas and currently operates seven legal aid contracts. Over the past eight years, its legal advice team has almost tripled in size, now employing fifty members of staff. This makes it one of the country’s largest Law Centres and enables it to collaborate with a local network of over 100 partner ‘safety net’ services.

The Law Centre has developed a holistic service capable of addressing interlinked issues: one in five clients is supported by multiple teams. By getting to the root of clients’ problems and resolving them, the Law Centre can give clients long-term stability to get on with their lives. When cases reflect systemic inequality, the Law Centre is also able to bring public law and human rights challenges.

Securing people’s access to legal assistance is the Law Centre’s objective not just for now but also for the future. It currently employs ten solicitors who have completed their legal training at the Law Centre or through the prestigious Justice First Fellowship scheme. A further ten solicitors have qualified with the Law Centre in the past 5 years. The Law Centre also operates advice clinics with two university law schools: this year, eight students who have completed clinic placements went on to join the Law Centre as paralegals and administrators.

Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at the Law Centres Network, said:

“We are very proud of these inspirational Law Centres finalists. They reflect the great opportunities across the Law Centres network: to do socially valuable legal work from the earliest stages; to learn, develop and progress in your career; to partner up and strengthen the fabric of our local community; and to challenge systemic injustice and bring the wider change we need.”

We wish our finalists the best of luck and look forward to celebrating them at the award ceremony held in central London on 12 July.

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