For the barrister of the year category, shortlisted were Amanda Weston of Tooks Chambers and two barristers from 1 Pump Court, Ranjiv Khubber and Jane Hoyal. The winner was Jane Hoyal.

Jane’s colleague, Melanie Johnson, writes that Jane founded what is now 1 Pump Court in 1978 with an ethos committed to removing inequality. Chambers members are dedicated to representing those who are publicly funded and of restricted means. Jane carries out complex, grave and lengthy family proceedings in private and public law.

Elizabeth Lawson QC highlights how Jane has fought for human rights for many years and has continued to do so for unsympathetic clients, wherever she was needed and without courting personal publicity: ‘I can think of no one still in practice who has shown a greater commitment to publicly funded work.’

Jane took to the European Court of Human Rights the case that successfully challenged that parents of children in care had no right to apply to a court to be able to see them. The government lost the case and the law was changed.

Sarah Lerner, of Hereward and Foster Solicitors in Canning Town, writes: ‘My first memory of Jane dates back to the early 1980s when we were both just starting out. We had a case in Acton Magistrates’ Court for a vulnerable mother whose children were subject to care proceedings. Jane won the client’s trust with her characteristic mixture of pugnacious opposition to the onslaughts of the other side, combined with realistic yet compassionate advice. I remember seeing Jane pull her brief from her bag, revealing a baby’s bottle nestling inside. We all laughed, and the client was reassured that her barrister knew something about ordinary life. There were fewer women in practice in those days, and that combination of the brief and the baby’s bottle symbolised a way of life that was to become common for many women over the following decades.’

A solicitor who has instructed Jane since 1993, Susan Esinazi, writes that she ‘remains in awe of Jane’s hard work, diligence and tenacity in representing parents in care proceedings. Jane is an excellent advocate and excels in representing disadvantaged people’.

One of the people Jane represented was a 25-year-old mother who was addicted to drugs and on a Methadone programme when she met Jane. The client was on a rehabilitation programme and her ten-week-old baby girl was on the Child Protection Register. She writes: ‘What you see with Jane is what you get, she does not muck about, she finds out what YOU want and if it is feasible she will help you achieve it. I could not have wished for a better barrister. Also I feel that if I did anything wrong, I could tell Jane and she would be understanding and tell me straight away how much damage I have caused but she would help me through it.’

The mother of a woman whom Jane was representing in court writes: ‘She can talk to a peer, a magistrate, a High Court Judge or Joe Bloggs all in the same voice and yet everyone will feel respected…She is a credit to her profession, a godsend to legal aid qualifiers and an absolute joy to three generations of females because of her help, her professional abilities and her empathy to mother and baby always being together, whenever possible. I feel immensely privileged to have met Jane Hoyal.’

Jane’s skills are well summed up by Sarah Lerner. ‘Jane and I have done many cases together over the years representing children and parents.   They have mostly not been easy, and we have not always got the results our parent clients would have liked, but no matter the circumstances Jane always represents her clients with tenacity and passion, using her human skills to soften any bitter blow.  Her ability to grasp a large amount of information quickly and put it to good effect is unmatched.  Her practical approach and great sense of humour make her a joy to work with.  I can think of no one who is more deserving of recognition through the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.’

Outside her casework accolades, colleagues highlighted the other work she has done and the many organisations she has been involved with. Jane chaired the Trustees of Parents Against Injustice in the late 1990s. This organisation helped parents to access expert advice at a time when local authorities had access to experts but parents had considerable hurdles to overcome to obtain relevant expert advice.  She was involved in the Grandparents’ Foundation which helps grandparents see children. She is a patron of the Coram Children’s Legal Centre and the Bar Committee on the Rights of the Child. She is a Vice-President of the Association of Women Barristers (AWB).

LALY newcomer

At the ceremony Leonie Hirst, practising at the time from Tooks Chambers and now at Garden Court Chambers, took the Legal Aid Newcomer: Barrister award. She was nominated by Ayesha Mohsin of Luqmani Thompson and Partners who posed the question why, when so many barristers in the legal aid field are determined, committed and have keen skills of analysis and advocacy, does Leonie stand out? Ayesha comments that there is something exceptional about her. ‘I admire her tenacity, which is backed by a sagacious legal mind as well as empathy for our clients…Leonie is a real pleasure to work with. She is a real team player, which in an increasingly stressful world of immigration is invaluable.’

Local groups wrote in support, one of whom knows her work because she represented a very vulnerable young man in an immigration case. He was unwell and hospitalised. Leonie visited him in hospital and was sensitive, approachable and reassuring. The client trusted her at a time when he trusted very few people. Leonie was very thorough, going to great lengths to gather information and the worker identifies this as crucial – it ‘enabled the young man concerned to slowly start to recover and rebuild his life’. A social worker said that Leonie’s impressive skills led to a client being able ‘to recover his mental health (slow steps) and is learning to re build his life and faith in the judicial system and people of the UK’.

The awards themselves

The awards are run by Legal Aid Practitioners Group. They were originally the idea of journalist Fiona Bawdon who remains co-organiser of the event. The idea was to honour legal aid lawyers working on the coal face tireless in their efforts to ensure that their clients were properly advised and represented. Eleven years later that remains the reason for the awards.

Every year new judges (solicitors, barristers, journalists and other commentators on the legal profession) are brought into the judging panel to consider the nominations. Several admitted that it proved impossible to read the nominations without ‘welling up’. It is an immensely rewarding experience to read through the nominations highlighting the important work carried out by lawyers in representing people at stressful times in their lives.

Testimonies from colleagues, opponents, experts and clients show just how important it is to individual clients and their families and we would unhesitatingly say to society as a whole. As the government continues to cut legal aid and at a time of enormous uncertainty for clients and practitioners, the LALYs are a chance to show the dedication, professionalism and commitment of lawyers like Jane Hoyal and Leonie Hirst.

The Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) welcomes membership from the Bar. See

Carol Storer is Director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group