Tess Baker is a GDL graduate from the University of Law and member of Lawyers Against Poverty (LAP)’s Editorial Team during 2021.She spoke with our Media Volunteer Emma Pomfret about her experiences with LAP.
How did you discover LAP and what do you do on the student editorial team?
“The university advertised an LAP event on Zoom: social justice lawyering in times of crisis. I really liked what was spoken about, found it interesting, and I emailed LAP about volunteering opportunities. From there, the refugee legal confidence sessions came up – Oxford and Goldsmiths students have joined too.
“I helped prepare resources for the sessions – I was researching and updating two sections of the handbook: practical information refugees would need when they’re arriving in the UK; and the system of law – what that entails for a refugee.”
Did this increase your own knowledge?
“Yes, massively. The way we see refugees’ struggles in the media is abstract a lot of the time, so working on the practical side of things, you think about the real things they need. And thinking about how Covid might have an impact on refugees, it taught me a lot about how much more limited things are; not being able to go somewhere in person, access to the internet if you relied on going to an internet café, or you couldn’t get a phone or Wi-Fi… that is a massive hindrance to starting all that admin.”
And in terms of a law career, how does LAP help students?
“Firstly the opportunity at events to hear from fantastic speakers to widen your knowledge of human rights issues and how the law interacts with justice in real-life situations – it’s not so academic. And you collaborate with others and can network with young lawyers who are interested in social justice.”
Will you get involved in more LAP work?
“The twinning programme – I think that’s unique – and the land rights and women’s rights groups. We’re seeing a lot about land rights in the media with Canada and indigenous people. And with women’s rights, it’s personal to me and there’s a lot to be done in the UK. For instance, we’ve started a blog series for LAP’s website and someone’s writing about Period Products (Free Provision) Bill in Scotland and what that means for us in England. It comes up a lot in daily life.”
What motivates you to work for social justice?
“I’ve been raised in a social justice-oriented household, so I feel like it’s essential.
I always think of the Albert Woodfox case; there was a big Amnesty campaign about it. He was in solitary confinement for 44 years in a US prison – it’s unthinkable. He was a Black Panther and in the Angola Three and in the social justice movement. He’d also used law in his confinement; he learnt from another prisoner and took on lawsuits [to gain prisoners’ privileges]. He was released in 2016 and I was involved in campaigning for that at school – though it was far away, it was very affecting.
“I’ve also campaigned door-to-door for the Labour Party. A few years ago in south London I met a woman who was really struggling; her husband had mental health issues and the Bedroom Tax had been imposed. You could see her situation was a direct result from the last few years of cuts and a result of laws and bills that had been passed. That was so close to home, you think: how does this add up?”
What role do you believe lawyers have in making positive change?
“Social justice and equality is a structural thing; it’s embedded in the laws that are passed – like the Bedroom Tax and policies like the legal aid cuts.
If you are a lawyer, in that position of privilege, it seems to me you have a duty to use that in a way that counteracts all the negative inequality created by law-making. With the power of your skills and knowledge, you need to do something to uplift others.”