Employment Tribunal Litigant In Person Scheme: improving access to justice

Posted by Arpita Dutt on 7 March, 2018

ELIPS, which was set up by the Employment Lawyers Association Pro Bono Committee, is not only changing the experience of tribunal litigation for litigants in person, but is also helping to create more efficient delivery of justice. It provides invaluable career development and ‘big picture’ exposure for its volunteers. On the back of the scheme’s recognition at the 2017 Law Society Excellence Awards, we reflect on what ELIPS has achieved over the past three years and discuss its plans for the future.

How the scheme works

ELIPS is a quasi-duty solicitor scheme, which currently operates at the Central London and Cardiff employment tribunals. The scheme provides on-the-day advice to unrepresented litigants (both claimants and respondents). Each ELIPS session is run by two volunteers drawn from ELA’s membership, who provide advice, support and representation to litigants in person.

Examples of support provided over the past three years include:

  • waiting room advice on procedure, time limits and Acas early conciliation;
  • representation or undertaking of advocacy at a preliminary hearing or simple trial;
  • advice on merits and potential next steps;
  • guidance on settlement; and
  • assistance with

Given that preparation time is usually limited, volunteers do not provide on-the-day representation in complex or multi-day hearings. However, litigants may be referred to the Bar Pro- Bono Unit or the Free Representation Unit if this is appropriate.

Reflections on the past three years

ELIPS was originally set up as a pilot scheme in the Central London employment tribunal. Following its success, it was extended to Cardiff and plans are afoot to extend it to other tribunals.

In the past three years, 150 ELA members have signed up as volunteers across the two centres, with volunteers including junior solicitors, partners and QCs. By the end of 2017, these volunteers had advised or represented just under 300 litigants,

160 of whom had attended the clinic more than once

Feedback from litigants who have used the scheme is overwhelmingly positive, with comments that include:

  • ‘thoroughly recommended – extremely So very grateful. Useful not only today but with advice going forward’;
  • ‘[I] genuinely have doubts over whether I could have managed alone’; and
  • ‘keep doing exactly what you It helps more than you can ever imagine.’

Scheme volunteers also praise ELIPS, reporting that volunteering not only achieved some ‘good’, but also helped their career development. Specifically, they say that it ‘sharpens’ their legal skills, particularly if they operate a solely claimant or respondent practice or if they do little advocacy in their day-to-day jobs.

Volunteers also comment that attending a session gives them a chance to witness the day-to-day running of a tribunal, and work with other lawyers and the judiciary.

Employment Judges at Central London and Cardiff employment tribunals have been firm supporters of ELIPS from the outset. They say that the scheme is helping to create a more efficient system, reducing delays and adjournments, and ensuring that cases are ready for trial.

After three years, the scheme has moved from a relatively sparsely used resource to having queues outside the clinic rooms, matters being deliberately listed for ELIPS days and judges referring appropriate litigants to the clinic.

The future of ELIPS

In future, we expect to see:

  • more listings for litigants in person to be coordinated to coincide with ELIPS clinic days;
  • short adjournments being permitted on ELIPS days for litigants to obtain legal representation or advice;
  • respondents taking the initiative to utilise ELIPS’ independent advice to settle or agree on the issues in dispute, limiting the judge’s time where possible;
  • judges directing that mediation takes place on ELIPS duty

The ELIPS model is now a permanent resource and fixture in the London Central and Cardiff employment tribunals and both ELA and the employment judiciary are keen to roll out the scheme across England and Wales. The success of the scheme, combined with the increasing number of cases (following the repeal of the tribunal fees), means that more and more people want to use it. We only have a relatively small bank of volunteers and need your help to meet this increasing demand and build on the success of the scheme.

How can you get involved?

If you are interested in volunteering for ELIPS, either at London Central or at Cardiff employment tribunal, or if you would like more information on the scheme, please email elips@elaweb.org.uk

We offer half- or full-day volunteer opportunities as follows:

  • London, every Thursday 9am to 4.00pm
  • Cardiff, monthly (usually the third Friday of every month)No preparation is required in advance of the ELIPS session and making the scheme perfect for those with busy commitments who would like to volunteer but can only offer a finite amount of time.Volunteers must be qualified employment solicitors or barristers, with solicitors needing a minimum of two years’ post-qualification experience. The ELA Pro Bono Committee has worked hard to develop a comprehensive support system for volunteers, which means you will be well equipped. This includes:
  • a private room with printers, scanners and access to books, and a laptop with Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law and LexisNexis online legal resources;
  • help to prioritise – students help to triage unrepresented claimants and respondents so that those with hearings on the ELIPS duty day are seen by the volunteers first;
  • phone a friend – a list of barristers who are happy to be called by volunteers, either in an emergency or for reassurance on a point or law or procedure;
  • shadowing – if you are interested in volunteering but would like to have some support beforehand, we can arrange to pair you with one of our volunteers to show you how ELIPS works and to explain your role as a volunteer.

We hope that employment solicitors or barrister will take the opportunity to join this invaluable scheme to improve access to justice for litigants.

Ruth Gamble and Polly Rodway are Partners at BDBF LLP. Bhavika Badola is an Associate Solicitor at Bolt Burdon. They write on behalf of ELA’s Pro-Bono Committee of which Ruth is Chairperson.