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Monday, 20th May 2024

The network celebrates an abundance of “legal aid Oscars” finalists

Top: North Yorkshire Citizens Advice and Law Centre, Harrow Law Centre. Bottom: Sabira Kashmiri and Paul Keeley, Public Interest Law Centre, Esme Madill
Top: North Yorkshire Citizens Advice and Law Centre, Harrow Law Centre. Bottom: Sabira Kashmiri and Paul Keeley, Public Interest Law Centre, Esme Madill

Six Law Centre nominees have been shortlisted for the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards.

The LALYs 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. Among our finalists are three Law Centre solicitors and three whole practices:

Social Welfare Law: Esme Madill, Islington Law Centre

Esme’s background is in social work, only qualifying as a solicitor in 2020. Originally a volunteer for Shpresa Programme, she supported Albanian children and young people to find lawyers to represent them in their asylum claims. As this became more difficult, Esme made it her mission to help meet this need by training as a lawyer herself.

In 2018, she co-founded Breaking the Chains, a collaboration between Islington Law Centre and Shpresa Programme. Under her guidance, it has grown into a holistic legal representation and advice service. Its work involves securing the immigration status of Albanian young people, training immigration champions, launching strategic litigation to solve systemic issues, and producing extensive resources.

Social Welfare Law: Sabira Kashmiri, South West London Law Centres

Sabira joined the Law Centre in January 2022 and is described as a “cornerstone” of its immigration and asylum services. Specialising in complex cases involving victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and severe human rights abuses, her meticulous approach has led to life-changing outcomes for her clients.

A client of Sabira’s said:

"Her understanding, compassion, and honesty have made a significant difference in my case... I am so thankful to have someone who is dedicated to their work and responsibilities.”

Public Law: Paul Keeley, South West London Law Centres

Paul has over 15 years’ experience in legal aid work. His expertise in criminal deportation cases and his strategic approach have earned him a reputation as a formidable advocate. He has successfully handled numerous high-stakes cases, often involving clients who have been failed by previous legal representations. He has been instrumental in training peers and contributing to legal education, ensuring that his profound understanding of immigration law benefits a wider audience.

Alasdair Mackenzie, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said:

“I have been consistently impressed with his fearless commitment to the rights of his clients... He approaches every case with immense rigour and care.”

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

Harrow Law Centre takes a comprehensive approach to its social justice mission, extending its casework and legal know-how with social policy work and campaigning.

The Law Centre offers legal advice targeted at children and young people and problems typical to them. Responding to a rise in hate crime, it launched a victims of crime service. The Law Centre also employs a community organiser to help Harrow renters fight together for better conditions in their housing blocks—something it has gained national coverage for.

Asha Mohammed, Chief Executive of NOMAD said:

“What sets them apart is their ability to see us not just as cases, but as human beings deserving of compassion and respect… They don't just offer legal advice; they provide a listening ear and a comforting presence when we need it most.”

Legal Aid Firm/ Not-for-Profit Agency: Public Interest Law Centre

Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) works in collaboration with grassroots groups, social justice campaigners and frontline organisations to challenge government departments, local authorities and other public bodies at the highest levels of the judiciary.

In the past year it has successfully challenged the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate in South London, fought for an immigration fee waiver for bereaved partners, supported victims of domestic abuse to get rehoused, and fought for 5 Irish Traveller families to stay on their land.

Regional Legal Aid Firm/ Not-for-Profit Agency: North Yorkshire Citizens Advice & Law Centre

North Yorkshire Citizens Advice and Law Centre is proactive in meeting the needs of its rural community. It is situated in England’s largest county, which was a legal aid desert before the Law Centre was established in December 2022. Barriers to advice in North Yorkshire are compounded by limited public transport links and limited access to reliable broadband or phone signal. The Law Centre takes advice to the people by way of an Advice Bus, which tours outreach locations from village libraries to local markets.

The Law Centre bridges gaps in legal aid funding strategically to provide a more holistic service. It runs an advice project for immigration matters beyond the scope of legal aid, and another for housing matters in the county’s most deprived area. It takes an intersectional approach, too. The Law Centre outreaches a local army base, cancer patients at a local hospital, and has projects promoting the inclusion of Eastern European migrants.

Not least…

An additional mention goes to Ollie Persey of Garden Court Chambers, who is a finalist in the Legal Aid Newcomer category. Ollie is a trustee of Southwark Law Centre.

We wish our finalists the very best of luck and look forward to celebrating them at the awards ceremony held in central London on Friday, 5th July.

For media enquiries, please contact media@lawcentres.org.uk.

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