ESRC Seminar Series 2011-2013
Access to justice in an age of austerity: Time for proportionate responses
PI, Prof Ellie Palmer School of Law, Human Rights Centre
CI, Dr Tom Cornford, School of Law
The last decade began with ambitious proposals to transform the justice
system. As in other publicly funded services, reforms have been driven by
concerns of efficiency; market principles have been introduced for the
commissioning of legal services and principles of 'best value' applied to
justify the allocation of resources across sectors.
However, there are growing concerns among legal professions, pressure groups
and charities about the level of unmet need for appropriate legal services,
especially for socially disadvantaged individuals and groups.
Austerity measures have exacerbated these problems. Coalition plans for
sweeping reforms of legal aid have coincided with increased pressures on courts,
tribunals and advice agencies to address problems of debt, unemployment, mental
health and family crisis precipitated by the economic downturn.
Against this background, a series of five themed seminars will examine
fundamental questions about "access to justice" - whether and the extent to
which citizens who believe they have suffered a legal wrong are able to gain
appropriate redress. The seminars will bring together a core group of up to
forty discussants – high level officials from government and the devolved
administrations, the judiciary, the legal professions, officials tasked with
providing legal advice and assistance, NGOs and academics - to discuss
proportionate responses to the present crisis in legal services.
Seminar 1: Access to justice in theory and practice
The first seminar will introduce and develop key themes and questions to be
explored ‘in context’ in subsequent seminars. Session 1 will examine the case
for publicly funded legal services in a liberal democracy, from the perspective
of political theory and ideas about ‘justice’ more generally. The second session
is on human rights. This session will make a compelling case for legal aid –
although not how much we should have. In the third session Professor Alan
Paterson will address issues of prioritization, drawing on global developments
and Professor Richard Susskind will give a complementary paper - asking how we
should prioritise legal aid spending to tackle the latent legal market and
Seminar 2: Revaluing a market based approach to legal services
Session 1 will look in greater detail at modes of legal service delivery,
drawing on the expertise of researchers and practitioners on both sides of the
Scottish border. Session 2 will explore the implications of the Coalition’s
sweeping reform of legal aid. In the third session, Theresa Perchard, Director
of Policy at the Citizens Advice Bureau and Julie Bishop, Director of the Law
Centres Federation will consider the impact of austerity on the accessibility of
‘justice’ for families in debt, children and other vulnerable service users
living in poverty.
Seminars 3 and 4: Pressure points on the justice system
Seminars 3 and 4 will be structured around pressure points on the justice
system – such as family, social security, children, debt, housing, employment
and mental health. One of the aims of the seminars is to identify best
evidence-based research in these areas. The seminars will also examine the
impact of the economic crisis on the administration of the justice system -
tribunals, county courts and administrative law courts.
Contact us if you would like further information about the ESRC Seminar Series.
Funded by E.S.R.C