Family of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life after viewing online material ‘romanticising self-harm’, their lawyers and those providing IT and media support, received LALY judges’ top accolade.

Deighton Pierce Glynn named Legal Aid Firm of the Year for its ‘life-saving work’ for former MoD interpreters in Afghanistan at risk from Taliban reprisals.

The four-strong legal team who represented the family of Molly Russell at the ground-breaking inquest into the teenager’s suicide were announced as winners of the Outstanding Achievement award at the 2023 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year ceremony last night.

The four are: barrister Jessica Elliott and Oliver Sanders KC, from One Crown Office Row; and Leigh Day solicitor and paralegal Merry Varney and Caleb Bawdon.

Honoured alongside the Russell lawyers were Leigh Day’s senior IT security analyst, Pesh Hamza; and its media relations team, led by Caroline Ivison.

The LALY awards are organised by Legal Aid Practitioners Group on a not for profit basis; this year, there were 12 award categories in total (full list of winners, below); and the trophies were presented by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC.

Announcing the Outstanding Achievement award winners, LALY compere broadcaster Symeon Brown said:

‘The case made extraordinary demands on everyone involved. And that is why the LALY judges would like to honour the outstanding achievements of the Russell family; their legal team of four, plus the colleagues who assembled around them to provide vital technical and media support.’

Symeon added:

‘It was legal aid which meant a grieving family could hold some of the world’s most powerful tech companies – with their limitless resources – to account for the role social media played in the death of a much loved daughter. Thanks to legal aid, social media company executives – flanked by an army of highly paid lawyers and advisers – were subject to rigorous and forensic questioning by the Russell family’s barristers; and required to account under oath for their company’s actions and inactions. ‘

At the end of the nine day inquest, the coroner’s ground-breaking conclusion was that ‘the negative effects of online content’ contributed to Molly’s suicide.

Speaking from the stage, Molly’s father Ian Russell said:

‘Without the expertise of the team who advised and supported us, we would not now know how deep was the connection between online harms and Molly’s death. The Russell family will be eternally grateful to you all; and because of your exceptional work, hopefully the world will become a safer place, and its young and vulnerable people will grow up to owe you all a debt of gratitude, too.’

Also honoured at the event, which is now into its 21st year, was the civil liberties law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, which has offices in Bristol and London. The firm was singled out for its work on behalf of Afghan nationals who had been refused relocation to the UK, despite having worked with the British government in Afghanistan and being at risk of Taliban reprisals.

The firm’s success in securing relocation for its clients was described by barristers supporting its LALY nomination as having ‘literally saved lives’.

Symeon outlined some the challenges involved:

‘These cases involve issues of national security; no or limited disclosure of evidence; and taking instructions – often through an interpreter – from people hiding in a country with unstable communications and crippling humanitarian conditions.’

Accepting the trophy, DPG partner Daniel Carey revealed that two of its clients, a father and son, had been kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban before the firm finally succeeded in having them relocated to safety.

LALY23 winners

  1. Legal Aid Newcomer – Christian Weaver (Garden Court North)
  2. Legal Aid Support Staffer – Katayoon Zare (TRP Solicitors)
  3. Legal Aid Barrister – Kathryn Cronin (Garden Court Chambers)
  4. Criminal Defence – Catherine Bond (SL5 Legal)
  5. Immigration and Asylum Law – Alison Stanley (Bindmans)
  6. Children’s Rights – Alia Lewis (Duncan Lewis)
  7. Family Legal Aid – Victoria Jones (RLE Law)
  8. Social Welfare Law – Chris Johnson (Community Law Partnership)
  9. Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-profit Agency – Deighton Pierce Glynn
  10. Regional Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-profit Agency – Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
  11. Public Law – Nusrat Uddin (Wilson Solicitors)
  12. Outstanding Achievement – Molly Russell Inquest Team: Jessica Elliott and Oliver Sanders (One Crown Office Row); Merry Varney, Caleb Bawdon, Pesh Hamza, Media Relations Team (Leigh Day)

LALY23 sponsors

  • Accesspoint Technologies
  • DG Legal
  • Doughty Street Chambers
  • Friends of LALY23 (crowdfunding)
  • Garden Court Chambers
  • Leigh Day
  • Matrix Chambers
  • Miles& Partners
  • One Pump Court
  • Resolution
  • The Bar Council
  • The Law Society
  • The Legal Education Foundation

For more information or photographs, contact: LALY co-organiser Fiona Bawdon –; or LAPG CEO Chris Minnoch –

Photo credits – Frederique Bellec Photography –