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Leigh Day wins Outstanding Achievement award at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year 2023

A team of Leigh Day lawyers and support staff have received the Legal Aid Lawyer of Year (LALY) award for Outstanding Achievement for their work surrounding the Molly Russell inquest.

Posted on 14 July 2023

Two Leigh Day lawyers were also nominated in the Public Law category and the Immigration and Asylum Law category of the awards.

The LALYs are an annual awards ceremony to celebrate and highlight the important work of those who take on cases for the most vulnerable clients who need legal aid support in order to access justice.

Twelve awards were presented at the 12 July 2023 ceremony in London including Legal Aid Newcomer, Criminal Defence, Legal Aid Barrister, and Family Legal Aid. The Children’s Rights Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year award was sponsored by Leigh Day and was won by Alia Lewis of Duncan Lewis Solicitors.

The Outstanding Achievement category was the final award of the evening and was described as the highest honour given by the legal aid community.

Leigh Day’s teams were recognised for their support for the family of Molly Russell. Molly’s story dominated national headlines as her family held major tech companies including Meta and Pinterest to account for contributing to her death aged 14. Molly took her own life after viewing extensive harmful content on social platforms.

Ian Russell, Molly’s father, spoke at the LALY awards ceremony, addressing the important work Leigh Day undertook in the case and how legal aid made possible access to justice for the Russell family and the opportunity to raise awareness and initiate change.

The award was presented to human rights lawyers Merry Varney and Caleb Bawdon, barristers Jessica Elliott and Oliver Sanders of 1 Crown Office Row, Senior IT security analyst Pesh Hamza, and the Leigh Day Media Relations team led by Caroline Ivison, including Maxine Wolstenholme, Anna Mauremootoo, and Lucy Ingram.

Leigh Day associate solicitor Nath Gbikpi was nominated in the Immigration and Asylum Law category for her specialist work in domestic abuse cases. The ceremony heard Nath’s work includes helping wives who have been abandoned overseas and had their children taken from them by abusive husbands. Nath helps mothers apply from abroad for indefinite leave to stay in Britain so they can begin the legal fight to be reunited with their children.

Stephanie Hill is a senior associate in Leigh Day’s human rights department and was nominated for the Public Law category. Stephanie specialises in migrants’ rights cases such as immigration detention cases, challenges to immigration bail conditions, and claims regarding use of force in detention centres.

The 2023 LALYs were an important opportunity to honour those across different areas of law who make a big difference both for their clients but also to effect wider societal change.

Leigh Day partner Merry Varney said:

"We are extremely proud to have received the Outstanding Achievement award at this year’s LALYs. The Coroner’s conclusions in the inquest into Molly’s death and the exposure of online harm caused by tech giants came as a result of a huge amount of hard work by all of the team, who each played a vital role. It would also not have been possible without the commitment and strength of Molly’s family, and it was a privilege that Molly’s father Ian spoke on the night and paid tribute to each member of the team.

"The result would also not have been possible without legal aid, and the LALYs are a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the often unsung legal aid work which makes such a difference to people’s lives. The inquest into Molly’s death shows the importance of making public funding available to bereaved families navigating the Coroners’ Courts, and the benefit it can have to us all to uncover the circumstances of a death and help to ensure future lives are protected."

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Merry Varney
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Merry Varney

Merry is a partner in the human rights department and head of the Leigh Day inquest group

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Nath Gbikpi
Human rights Immigration Windrush

Nath Gbikpi

Nath is a solicitor with almost a decade's experience in immigration, asylum and British nationality law

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Stephanie Hill
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Stephanie Hill

Stephanie Hill is a partner in the human rights department at Leigh Day.