Streetlaw – assisting access to justice in the Employment Tribunal: A practice report

Sarah Saunders

Abstract


If you have not yet read the judgment of Lord Reed in the Supreme Court decision of Unison v The Lord Chancellor, please allow yourself a little time over the coming weeks to enjoy a clear and evidence-based statement on access to justice in the employment tribunals of England and Wales. The case was brought by Unison, the UK public workers union, and challenged the introduction in July 2013 of the requirement to pay a fee to lodge an employment tribunal claim. Having reviewed some of the key common law authorities and quoting from the Magna Carta and Donoghue v Stevenson no less, Lord Reed concluded that the fee regime was unlawful “because it has the effect of preventing access to justice”. This landmark decision in July 2017 brought an immediate end to the fee regime. Time will tell whether the UK Government will attempt another fee scheme in the future, but there are other more pressing issues occupying Whitehall at the moment.


The four-year fee regime and the Unison challenge brought access to justice in employment tribunals very much into the public eye. Other barriers to access were also widely discussed and reported, including the lack of legal aid and legal representation for claimants in employment law matters. A number of law clinics and pro bono schemes operate to give guidance and advice to the public, in addition to the essential work of ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). The purpose of this paper is to share with you my experience of a university student Streetlaw project at the Cardiff Employment Tribunal providing guidance to unrepresented claimants about tribunal practice and procedure.


The concept of Streetlaw is familiar to readers of this Journal as a form of public legal education aimed at helping members of the public to understand their rights. It is also frequently referred to as “legal literacy”, the importance of which Richard Grimes explains in a previous edition of this Journal. The key aim of our Streetlaw project is to educate potential claimants about what to expect in the run up to their employment tribunal hearing and what happens on the day. As I shall explain, however, there are a number of secondary aims and several other beneficial outcomes.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.19164/ijple.v3i1.834

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