Nkiru Okafor and Imogen Townley shortlisted for Legal Aid Lawyers of the Year
Date posted: 19 May 2021
We are so delighted to announce that Nkiru Okafor, solicitor in our Public Law team and Imogen Townley, a solicitor in our Immigration team, have been shortlisted as finalists in this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards (The LALYs). Nkiru has been shortlisted in the Public Law category and Imogen in the Social Welfare category.
Nkiru read International Relations and French at Leeds University and graduated in 2012. Before joining Wilson Solicitors in 2014, she volunteered at Hackney Migrant Centre. Nkiru became a caseworker in 2015 and qualified as a solicitor in November 2018. Nkiru specialises in representing the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society in securing their liberty and vindication of their rights against perhaps the most powerful body in the country, namely the Home Office, as well as against other state bodies including the police. In her career so far, Nkiru has obtained approximately £800,000 in damages from the state on behalf of her clients, including over £700,000 in the last year alone.
The clients Nkiru represents often have unresolved immigration issues, they are victims of torture and of trafficking and have mental health problems. They don’t speak English as their first language. Many have experienced years of detention at the hands of the Home Office, coupled with their experiences of torture and ill treatment in their country of origin having been disbelieved by the state. One case from this year is that of Sam Louis –v- The Home Office  EWHC 288 (QB). Nkiru’s dedicated legal representation resulted in findings that our client had been unlawfully detained for over 3 ½ years and had suffered a personal injury as a result of detention that was in the Judge’s words “seemingly without an end in sight”.
Nkiru co-lead the department’s representation of victims of the Windrush scandal. As the judging panel will know, many of those affected were detained by the Home Office but on top of this lost homes, livelihoods and family as a result of the Home Office denying their right to be in the UK and to be recognised as British citizens. This injustice has gone on for decades. Nkiru is referred many cases by our local MP and by community organisations. She has achieved some amazing results, in one case increasing the Home Office’s offer of compensation from just over £200,000 to almost £300,000, while also ensuring her clients feel as though they have been fully heard. On behalf of the firm Nkiru co-prepared and submitted evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Windrush Compensation Scheme in December 2020, drawing on her experience of representing clients under the scheme to highlight its shortcomings, hopefully informing future improvements.
Imogen joined Wilson Solicitors LLP as a caseworker in October 2014. She obtained Level 2 accreditation in 2015 and became a solicitor in 2018. Imogen became a supervisor within her first year of qualification and supervises a solicitor and trainee solicitor. Imogen is committed to assisting legally aided clients. She stands out because of her exceptional skill and ability, her commitment to her clients and her creative and optimistic approach to cases. Her clients include torture and trafficking survivors and those with mental illnesses. Imogen’s strengths really come to the fore in ‘end of line’ cases with a problematic history of previous negative court decisions. Imogen will find a way to overcome the most challenging of hurdles. Where other lawyers may deem a case to be lacking in merit or hopeless, Imogen will battle away until that same case is won. She is persistent, resilient and tenacious. She is forensic in her case analysis, meticulous in her case preparation and truly leaves no stone unturned. Towards the end of last year, the charity Migrants Organise sent out the following tweet about one of Imogen’s clients, who was also supported by the charity: After 15 years of waiting in destitution, 2 failed deportations, months of detention, missing out on education. After a year in prison for refusing to sign travel documents for his own deportation. After years of appeals, one of members won his refugee status. In that particular case, Imogen carefully unpicked many years of negative decisions made long before she was instructed. She obtained the right evidence, fought the case in both the High Court and the First Tier Tribunal, and, amazingly, secured refugee status for the client.
Imogen’s dedication to justice is further reflected in her work on the recent important case of R (MN & IXU) v SSHD (AIRE Centre and Anti-Slavery International intervening), a landmark appeal to the Court of Appeal in the area of human trafficking promulgated in December 2020. The appeal challenged a negative Conclusive Grounds decision and resulted in an important judgment regarding the assessment of credibility in trafficking claims and the correct standard of proof to be applied. The impact of the judgment is significant; it will help vulnerable people be more easily identified as trafficked persons, which in turn will enable them to gain protections which they are entitled to.
The awards ceremony will be live on Tuesday 6th July at 7pm. You can register for a free ticket here.
We wish Nkiru and Imogen the best of luck for the awards and congratulate all the other amazing legal aid heroes from other firms and organisations who have been nominated.