We are thrilled to announce that two of our Harrow based public law lawyers have been shortlisted at this year’s Legal Aid Practitioners Group Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) Awards. Solicitor Raja Uruthiravinayagan is shortlisted for the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year – Public Law award, and trainee solicitor Maria Petrova-Collins is up for the Legal Aid Newcomer award.
The LALY awards are organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and recognise the work carried out by legal aid lawyers throughout the year.
Public law solicitor Raja has been at the forefront of legal aid asylum and human rights protection work throughout his time at Duncan Lewis, challenging unlawful practices and policies that affect vulnerable people. His background shows his brilliance and fearlessness in promoting the rights and interests of vulnerable members of our community.
He has been the instructing solicitor in recent important cases concerning access to justice for asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants. The scope of his work includes his recent test case litigation, whether it be in relation to access to justice and the Home Office’s removal policy in R (on the application of FB and Another) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKUT 428 (IAC) (the appeal to be heard by the Court of Appeal later in 2019); the application of article 3 in ‘medical cases’ following the Grand Chamber judgment of Paposhvili v. Belgium: MM (Malawi) v. MV (Sri Lanka) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 2482 (currently awaiting permission to appeal to the Supreme Court); or Country Guidance decisions in GJ  UKUT 00319, in which he has acted for the Intervenor. He has taken on the whole gamut of public law cases in the field of immigration, asylum and human rights, from challenges to exclusion from the Refugee Convention, to ground-breaking trafficking and unlawful detention challenges, and also including cases from the EEA rough sleepers cohort.
In vigorously pursuing and protecting the rights of foreign national asylum seekers subject to detention and then removal under what was the Dublin Convention and then the Dublin Regulation, he has sought to forensically define the powers the Home Office enjoys under European Union law. Of greatest note this year is on Omar & Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 207, which is currently awaiting a decision on permission to appeal from the Supreme Court. The case concerns the legal legitimacy of immigration detention regulations and stands to benefit thousands who have been subjected to the uncertainty and despair of on-going deprivation of liberty.
Raja commented on his shortlisting inclusion:
“We live in extraordinary times. There is a real crisis that has been brewing in our justice system that threatens to boil over if it is not addressed now. Restrictions on the provision of legal aid have created legal aid deserts and led to the abrogation of access to justice. The rule of law itself is at risk. If not for the work of all the brilliant lawyers at the coalface of legal aid work, who on a daily basis fight to ensure that access to justice is real and not theoretical, we would have had an even bigger crisis on our hands. It is essential work that fosters societal cohesion and equality. It is humbling, not to mention a real privilege and an honour, to be part of this wonderful celebration of legal aid work.”
Maria is a trainee solicitor in the public law and immigration department, based in the Harrow office. She has represented numerous vulnerable clients at all stages of their claims for international protection. She has particular expertise in handling cases that involve modern slavery and immigration detention.
Maria has helped a number of victims of sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude in times when they needed both legal and psychological support the most. She has initiated a number of successful Judicial Review applications challenging the Home Office’s excessive delays in progressing trafficking victims’ asylum and trafficking claims which in most cases result in the deterioration of the clients’ mental health and prevent them from accessing all the benefits that the refugee or discretionary leave status bring. Maria has particular expertise in representing extremely vulnerable clients such as those suffering from severe mental health issues and suicidal ideation.
Recently, a number of her EEA clients were awarded compensation for the periods that they were unlawfully detained for the purposes of being removed on the sole basis that they were encountered sleeping rough which was, in the Home Office’s view, an abuse of EU free movement rights. She is also currently working on a case challenging the lawfulness of the 2017 Detention Regulations which is currently awaiting permission at the Supreme Court. She has been described as ‘forthright and fearless’ who ‘always goes the extra mile’ and that ‘our clients are in good hands when she is on the case’.
Following her shortlisting, Maria commented:
“It is indeed a great honour and privilege to be shortlisted for a LALY award. It is an even greater honour to be part of the Duncan Lewis Public Law team whose work has inspired me greatly and permanently removed the words ‘fear’ and ‘impossible’ from my vocabulary. It is an amazing feeling to see how your work truly makes a difference!”
The LALY awards are taking place in central London on 10th July, where the winners will be announced by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. We are incredibly proud of both Raja and Maria and looking forward to the awards night.