Raju Bhatt, the founder of London civil liberties firm Bhatt Murphy, received the award for outstanding achievement at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards last night.
Accepting the award on behalf of his firm and colleagues, and dedicating it to his clients’ continuing eligibility for legal aid, Bhatt said ‘we (legal aid lawyers) shall survive because our clients need us to’.
Announcing the award, radio presenter John Howard (pictured, left) said Bhatt (pictured, centre) has ‘never sought the limelight during decades at the legal aid coalface’ but is ‘fearless on behalf of his clients’.
He said the firm, founded in the 1990s, is ‘one of the most dynamic and respected civil liberties firms around, dedicated to ensuring state accountability, mainly through its inquest, prison law and actions against the police work’.
‘Equipped only with a legal aid certificate, this small firm has brought successful cases against some of the biggest and best-resourced organs of state - including police, security services and Ministry of Defence - and ensured accountability and justice where otherwise there would be none,’ said Howard.
Bhatt’s first action against the police resulted in significant payouts for striking miners arrested after the so-called Battle of Orgreave in the 1980s.
More recently, he was a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which unlocked the truth about the Hillsborough disaster.
In May there was a major breakthrough in one of his cases, when the home secretary ordered a review into the alleged role of police corruption in shielding the killers of Daniel Morgan, the private detective found murdered in a south London pub car park in 1987.
In total 10 awards were presented at the ceremony, organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, at London’s Globe Theatre. The winners were:
- Legal aid newcomer barrister – Leonie Hirst, Tooks Chambers;
- Legal aid newcomer lawyer – Nadia Salam, solicitor advocate at London firm GT Stewart;
- Family legal aid lawyer – Colin Mackey, partner at Hampshire firm Churchers;
- Social and welfare – Russell Conway, senior partner at London firm Oliver Fisher;
- Mental health lawyer – Richard Nicholas, partner at Liverpool firm RMNJ;
- Immigration lawyer – Hilton von Herbert, senior immigration caseworker at Hackney Community Law Centre;
- Legal aid barrister – Jane Hoyal of 1 Pump Court;
- Criminal defence lawyer – Margaret Gordon, partner at London firm Christian Khan;
- Legal aid firm – Bradford firm Makin Dixon.