Specialist immigration and family law barrister Rachel Francis has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to access to justice with a Special Award at the 2019 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards.
This is only the third time the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) has chosen to make Special Awards, which celebrate campaigners and others who make an exceptional contribution to legal aid.
Rachel was recognised alongside public law solicitor Oliver Carter for their work leading Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) as co-chairs at one of the most challenging times in its history, due to, among other things, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) cuts.
Speaking at the awards, she made a rallying call for the profession to recognisethe impact of traumatic caseloads on practitioners.
“We are in a time of unique pressure on our profession as a result of sustained legal aid cuts, increased caseloads, and increasingly traumatic cases,” she said. “On a daily basis we bear witness to the enormity of our clients’ suffering, and to the atrocities that are perpetrated against them by individuals and by repeated failures by the state.
“We bear witness to the government, the media and hate groups undermining our clients’ dignity, cutting their services and throwing their rights in the gutter. And then we endure the bureaucracies of CCMS and the most extraordinary number of changes to the immigration laws. That collectively takes its toll; it leaves a mark, especially when our clients have lost trust in institutions and it requires an emotional currency to build a relationship with them and to build trust with them again.
“It’s time to call that out; to acknowledge that our stress is real, our burn-out is real, and our vicarious trauma is real. We need to learn what that means and to not be ashamed to share that with our friends and our colleagues, and to work differently to give courage and hope to each other, because this work is bloody, bloody hard, and we need each other to get through it.”
Rachel joined One Pump Court as a pupil in October 2013, becoming a tenant in October 2014, specialising in family and immigration law.
LAPG CEO Chris Minnoch, said: “LAPG Special Awards are reserved for truly exceptional individuals who have achieved incredible things, often alongside their day-to-day legal practice.
“Rachel and Oliver … rose to every challenge, displaying great skills of leadership, resilience and diplomacy. Under their stewardship YLAL went from strength to strength and is now recognised by all sides as an important and influential campaigning organisation. They ensured that the distinctive voice of young legal aid lawyers, who are truly the future of this profession, could not be ignored.
“The fact that they were able to achieve so much with YLAL, alongside carving out successful legal practices is quite remarkable. The profession is lucky to have them. We are confident they are just at the beginning of what will be long and distinguished legal careers, and that they will continue to be an inspiration to lawyers young and old.”
Rachel received her award at the 2019 LALY awards on 10 July, at which One Pump Court’s Martin Hodgson was also shortlisted in the Legal Aid Barrister category.
The previous recipients of LAPG Special Awards are Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE, who was honoured in 2012, and criminal practitioners Bill Waddington, Robin Murray, Jon Black and Paul Harris, who were recognised in 2015 for their campaigning against cuts to duty solicitor contracts.