Justice First Fellow Siobhan Taylor-Ward, an asylum and housing lawyer at Merseyside Law Centre, has been named at Newcomer of the Year at the prestigious Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.

Siobhan is the first JFF graduate to win a LALY award, since the fellowship scheme was launched in 2014.

TLEF chief executive Matthew Smerdon said:
‘My TLEF colleagues and I could not be more delighted for Siobhan, and for the fellowship scheme. She is a fantastic asset to the fellowship and to the legal profession and she really deserves this recognition from her peers. Our ambition for the scheme was to attract and retain highly motivated, highly skilled lawyers, who would have a pivotal role in ensuring individuals, families and communities can secure access to justice. Siobhan is one of 52 fellows who have now graduated from the scheme and I congratulate all of them on what they are achieving in the pursuit of social justice.’

Siobhan started her legal training at Greater Manchester Law Centre, before transferring to Merseyside, which was closer to her home. She qualified as a solicitor earlier this year, and was presented with her JFF graduation certificate by former president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale, at a ceremony in central London.

Siobhan is an active member and former vice chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers, where she led on YLAL’s work to increase diversity and social mobility in the legal profession.

The LALY judges described her as ‘a dedicated social welfare lawyer and dogged campaigner for justice in the broadest sense.’ Jenny Beck, co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, which organises the LALY awards, said: ‘I am so proud to have Siobhan as a member of my profession. We are lucky to have her. She never seeks the limelight for herself, but always seeks justice for her clients. The warmth, respect, and admiration that her Young Legal Aid Lawyer and Justice First Fellow colleagues feel towards Siobhan absolutely shone through her nomination.’

The winner of the Outstanding Achievement LALY award was housing solicitor Mike McIlvaney, partner and founder of Birmingham-based Community Law Project. During his acceptance speech, Mike spoke of the recruitment difficulties facing the legal aid sector, and welcomed TLEF’s funding of CLP’s first Justice First Fellow, who recently took up their post at the firm.

Other TLEF grantees named among the finalists at this year’s LALY ceremony, which was staged virtually due to Covid-19, included Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (solicitor Julian Bild was a runner-up for the Immigration & Asylum award); Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (winner of the Legal Aid Team award; and solicitor Nicola Burgess was a runner-up for the Immigration award); South West London Law Centres (winner, Legal Aid Firm/Not for profit Agency award).

The LALY awards are organised on a not-for-profit basis by LAPG. TLEF has been a sponsor of the LALY awards since 2015, and this year sponsored its inaugural Regional Legal Aid Firm/Not for profit Agency award, which was won by Belfast-based KRW Law. Fiona Bawdon, TLEF head of comms, is founder and co-organiser of the event, which launched in 2003.

The virtual LALY20 ceremony can be watched, here:

There is a write up of LALY20 ceremony on LAPG’s website, here: https://lapg.co.uk/lapg-hosts-first-ever-virtual-legal-aid-lawyer-of-the-year-awards-to-honour-social-justice-champions/

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