Our Law Centre has just been awarded the coveted Legal Aid Firm of the Year award 2020, for excellence in helping local people to understand their legal rights and get justice.
The Legal Aid Lawyers of the Year awards (LALYs) are ‘the Oscars of the legal aid world’. The awards recognise excellence among social justice lawyers and firms, including not-for-profit law centres like ours.
This year’s virtual awards ceremony on 7 July 2020 was streamed live to hundreds of viewers. This year’s virtual awards ceremony, on 7 July 2020, was streamed live to hundreds of viewers. The 2020 awards were compered by broadcaster Anna Jones, for the 5th year running, who was joined on stage by domestic abuse campaigner David Challen.
David led the successful campaign for the release from prison of his mother Sally Challen, after her murder conviction was overturned on appeal. The solicitor in the case, Harriet Wistrich, is a former LALY award winner, and David paid tribute to Harriet and all legal aid lawyers. He said: ‘This work really does make a difference to the lives of people like me.’
During the ceremony, the judges highlighted the story of a local mother our Law Centre supported to avoid eviction and keep a roof over her family’s head:
‘Before I came to the Law Centre, I was seriously suicidal. I could not bear the thought of me and my son being on the street, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do to stop it.
‘I had no idea that I could get a lawyer to help me with my housing issues, and I definitely didn’t know that I could challenge the council for leaving my home in disrepair or discriminating against me.
‘When the court eventually decided that the council had discriminated against me, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. I hope I’m never in rent arrears again, but now I know there is a place I can come to where there are people who are willing to help.’
Patrick Marples, our CEO, says of winning the award:
‘It’s a fantastic result and a testament to all the hard work that our whole team puts in to secure the best results for all the people we help in our community. I’m humbled by the skill, patience and kindness that my colleagues show to each person that we help and serve.
‘The team were so excited to be recognised with this Legal Aid Firm of the Year award. It’s a great feeling that we’ve all done it together, from our team on reception welcoming clients and answering their first enquiries, to our volunteer coordinator and pro bono volunteers, and paralegals, caseworkers and solicitors.
‘The fact that our Law Centre is still supporting people across six boroughs, 45 years after our first law centre opened, is wonderful. To be able to continue helping people understand their rights and get justice is life-changing for so many.
‘Now more than ever, with the impact of Covid-19 hitting those on low incomes the hardest, our communities need to be empowered to know their rights and uphold them. Our communities need justice.
‘As lockdown eases, and as court hearings for evictions resume and job insecurity rises further, we know more people than ever will need our expert support to help them defend their rights.
“As a local charity, we continue to need support to help make this possible, and to meet the growing need in our community. By giving or volunteering, people can make a real difference locally and ensure everyone can get life-changing justice when they need it most – securing a better future for people in our community, their families and all of us across south-west London.’