Introduction to Legal Aid – Speaker Biographies

For 28th September online event

Poppy Bourke

Poppy started her career as a paralegal at the legal aid firm, Philcox Gray, where she went on to do a training contract in the areas of family, housing and public law, qualifying as a solicitor in 2016. Poppy joined Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre’s housing and public law team in 2018. She specialises in all aspects of housing law including, homelessness, possession proceedings, unlawful eviction, anti-social behaviour, disrepair and judicial review. Poppy provides on the day advice and representation via the Duty Desk Schemes at Wandsworth and Brentford County Courts for Defendants in possession proceedings at risk of losing their home.

Laura Janes

Laura is a solicitor specialising in prison law, criminal appeals, community care, mental health and public law. She has particular expertise in representing children, young adults and vulnerable people in detention in both penal and mental health settings. She founded Young Legal Aid Lawyers in 2005.

Laura is a Consultant Solicitor at Scott-Moncrieff & Associates Ltd and GT Stewart Solicitors & Advocates. Laura teaches at South Bank University in the Law department. She was awarded a professional doctorate in youth justice at the University of Bedfordshire in 2014.

Laura is a Board member of the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group and a trustee of Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre in her capacity as a councillor for the London Borough Hammersmith and Fulham. She is also a trustee of the National Association for Youth Justice. She is a committee member of the Association of Prison Lawyers, the Mental Health Lawyers’ Association and the Criminal Appeal Lawyers’ Association. She also sits on the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee.

Sir Robin Knowles CBE

Sir Robin Knowles CBE became one of the Judges of the Commercial Court in 2015.

He is a designated Judge of the Financial List. He also sits in the Administrative Court and other King’s Bench work, including crime.

Sir Robin Knowles CBE was educated at state school before reading Law at Cambridge. He commenced practice at the Bar in 1984, and was appointed a QC (now KC) in 1999. His practice was in commercial, financial, company and insolvency law. He became the Chair of the Commercial Bar Association of England & Wales and of Advocate (the Bar Pro Bono Unit) and the National Pro Bono Centre.

In 1998 he was appointed an Assistant Recorder, a Recorder in 2000 and a Deputy High Court Judge in 2007, sitting in the Crown Court, the Chancery Division and the Commercial Court. He is a qualified mediator and has sat as an arbitrator. He became a High Court Judge in 2014.

Sir Robin is the judge with day-to-day responsibility for the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts, and is a board member of the Financial Markets Law Committee. He has served as Chair of the International Committee of the Judicial College and as a member of the Civil Justice Council. Through the pandemic he chaired the cross-sector MR’s Working Group on possession proceedings. Within the HMCTS Reform Programme he chairs the Litigants in Person Engagement Group (LIPEG).

Sir Robin was awarded the CBE in 2007 for service to pro bono legal services. Outside the law, before his appointment to the High Court bench, he chaired the UK umbrella charity in the children’s palliative care and children’s hospice sector.

Anna Morris KC

Anna Morris KC specialises in inquests and inquiries, civil liberties and human rights and private and public law claims involving public authorities. Anna is recognised as a Leading Junior by Chambers and Partners and The Legal 500 in all of her core practice areas. Anna acts for bereaved families and claimants in private and public law proceedings. Anna has a particular expertise in the law relating to policing protests, public order and deaths in custody and is often instructed in large scale, complex multi-agency cases.

Anna is frequently instructed in high profile and complex public inquiries and inquests and is currently instructed as leading counsel in the Covid 19 Public Inquiry by a large number of individuals impacted by the C19 vaccine.

Anna is the Human Rights Editor of Stones’ Justices’ Manual (Lexis Nexis) and the Author of “The Protest Handbook” (2nd Ed 2020) (Bloomsbury Professional).

Ollie Persey

Ollie is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in disability and migrant rights. He trained through a Justice First Fellowship at Public Law Project 2017-2019, practised as a barrister at PLP 2019-2020 and joined GCC in 2021. Ollie previously co-chaired Young Legal Aid Lawyers and is a big fan of its mentoring scheme

Gayan Samarasinghe​

I am a barrister working in all areas of family law and have been practising for 5 years at Fourteen Chambers. My recent work includes disputes about whether a child should be vaccinated, alleged parental alienation, and trials in which allegations of violence or sexual abuse towards a parent or a child needed to be determined. I am a former member of YLAL and before joining the Bar (and while undertaking the BPTC) I worked for six years as a paralegal in prison and community care law.

Ife Thompson

Ife, who was recently shortlisted as a newcomer of the year in the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards, is a community activist, United Nations Fellow, Black history expert, curator, lawyer and writer. She campaigns for the rights of peoples of African Descent in the UK, as she believes we should live in a world where Black people can live free from Racism and Oppression. She has founded two civil society organisations to further these pursuits. The first being BLAM UK- an award-winning Non-profit that provides educational, advocacy and well-being support for Black people living in Britain. The second being Black Protest Legal Support UK a hub of UK based Lawyers willing to provide Pro-bono support to BLM Activists.

Ife was called to the Bar in 2020 and is currently a pupil barrister at 1MCB Chambers.