Host Organisation: The Speakeasy Advice Centre

Shanice Baker

I am training to be a solicitor at the Speakeasy in Cardiff, where I grew up. I studied Law at Staffordshire University.

In 2013 I started volunteering at the local Citizens Advice where I took part in a note taking project at medical assessments with ESA claimants. This gave me insight into the social welfare system and the difficulties that clients often face when making benefit claims.

I then moved on to a paid role within Citizens Advice working on their telephone advice line, providing advice on debt, benefits, housing and employment and I also worked on the Victim Gateway Service providing emotional and practical support to local victims of crime.

I completed an LLM in Legal Practice at Staffordshire University. My dissertation was entitled ‘What have the effects of the Employment Tribunal Fees been on the amount of cases brought to tribunal and has this caused a decrease in claims?’ I found that the fees had significantly reduced the numbers of claims made. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has now ruled the fees were unlawful, and access to Employment Tribunals is once again a free service.

Across my employment in the Social Welfare sector and through my academic studies I have focused upon access to justice in most of my work and engaging with vulnerable clients helping them to enforce their rights and support them through difficult times.

Project

Continuing my commitment to supporting vulnerable people, the aim of my project is to help clients to access better representation at tribunal hearings.

Representation at various tribunals is often very hard to find. Research into social security appeal tribunals has shown that clients who attend their hearing increase their chances of success, but this is increased further by formal representation. Similarly, representation at employment tribunals can be essential, but there has been a steady rise in the number of litigants in person over the last few years.

A lot of the appeals we deal with are for clients who have disabilities who are challenging ESA/PIP decisions. These are often people with severe health problems who are more likely to struggle with the process of challenging a benefit decision. Many people facing discrimination at work also struggle to represent themselves adequately.

The Speakeasy is able to offer representation in certain social security tribunals and provides formal written submissions for other clients. Our employment clinic offers advice and guidance to litigants in person. Many other organisations do not currently provide representation and the opportunity to access such help is something of a post-code lottery.

As part of my project, I will look at the impact of representation at tribunal and look to see how we can help more clients gain access to justice.

© 2013 - 2019 The Legal Education Foundation
Registered charity 271297 (England/Wales)