Impact and Engagement

people looking at the liberty building

The School of Law has an international reputation for interdisciplinary research that transforms policy, improves professional practice, shapes intellectual debates and engages with the public to build awareness and advance understanding.

We are committed to a collaborative approach and are proud to work closely with local, national and international organisations to address some of the most significant challenges of the day.

Stories of our research impact

Enhancing the Analytical Toolbox to Assess the Impact of the Sentencing Guidelines

England and Wales has embarked on a transformative process of sentencing reform through the design of sentencing guidelines. These guidelines promote consistency by provided a structured sentencing process for sentencers to follow. Sentencing guidelines, however, should not affect the severity of the sentences imposed. To ensure that is the case, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales has the statutory duty to assess the impact of its guidelines and redevelop those that appear problematic.

Research led by Dr Jose Pina-Sánchez, in collaboration with Professor John Paul GoslingDr Sara Geneletti, Dr Albert Varela Montane, Dr Carly Lightowlers and Sentencing Council Principal Statistician Amber Isaac, has strengthened and enhanced the process followed by the Sentencing Council to evaluate the impact of its guidelines.

As part of research commissioned by the Sentencing Council, new protocols were designed to detect court disparities and identify factors listed in the guidelines that are applied inconsistently. This allows the Sentencing Council to (1) redefine offence and offender characteristics in need of further clarification, such as the context for which an offence committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs should be considered an aggravating factor, and (2) assess the overall impact in sentence consistency of new guidelines.

Dr Pina-Sánchez also led a research project, funded by the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, to develop a new index of sentence severity capable of differentiating between all main sentence types used in England and Wales. This new index was adopted by the Sentencing Council in 2019 and has been in operation in all its guidelines’ evaluations since. The enhanced transparency and precision of the new index of severity has allowed the Sentencing Council to increase the robustness of its impact assessments, which has in turn reduced the probability of incorrectly setting (1) well-functioning guidelines as ‘in need of reformulation’, and (2) guidelines that unduly affect sentence severity as if they were operating correctly.

The new index has saved the Sentencing Council time and resources associated to redesigning well-functioning guidelines, as well as saving all sentencers and practitioners the necessary weeks of training to familiarise themselves with new guidelines. Yet, the most significant contribution stems from the index’s higher sensitivity to detect increases in sentence severity from an overuse of immediate custodial sentences. This has increased the speed with which the Sentencing Council can reformulate flawed guidelines to redress the problem. Ultimately, rectifying an unintended cycle of sentence inflation directly impacts the lives of offenders and their families, who would otherwise suffer the consequences of over-punitive sentencing, and benefits all British taxpayers by reducing public spending on incarceration. 

Influencing VAT law reforms around the globe

Value-added tax (VAT) is a general consumption tax applied to goods and services in more than 160 countries around the world, accounting for approximately 30% of total world tax revenues. Poor design and implementation of VATs limits the state’s capacity to deliver the public services that are key to long-term development.

Research by Professor Rita de la Feria has shaped VAT law reforms worldwide. It has identified the limitations of existing VATs – particularly in anti-fraud policy and tax base design – and how to overcome them, helping to create more equitable and efficient tax systems. The research has influenced tax reforms at every stage of the policy process: from the development of tax policy in the UK or the EU, to drafting a new tax law in Timor-Leste, finally to the political debate that precedes legal approval in Brazil. These reforms are critical for countries’ economic sustainability, as well as their capacity to deliver public services, such as education and healthcare. In developing countries, reforms can also decrease dependency on foreign aid, contribute to formalising the economy, and help attract foreign investment.

Shaping European law on business restructuring, insolvency and debt discharge

Across the EU, insolvency (a state of financial distress where individuals or companies are unable to pay their bills) has led to business closures, individual bankruptcy and significant job losses. This has made the reform of insolvency law a top priority for the European Commission (EC).

Research by Professor Gerard McCormack, Professor Andrew Keay, Dr Sarah Brown and Judith Dahlgreen helped the EC demonstrate the need for the 2019 European Directive on business restructuring, insolvency and debt discharge, and shaped key provisions included in the Directive. In 2014-16, the research team undertook a comparative and empirical study on substantive insolvency law across the EU to ascertain how laws could be reformed and harmonised. Commissioned by the EC Justice and Consumers Directorate-General, the study provided a comprehensive analysis of restructuring and insolvency laws in all EU member states with a view to advancing a common European legal framework.

The Leeds research was pivotal in the EC’s determination of how to propose an appropriate legislative response to restructuring and insolvency issues. The Leeds report is the only document referenced as underpinning research in the EC’s introduction to the new law.

Transforming organisational learning in policing 

Professor Adam Crawford’s research into policing partnerships informed the design, establishment and implementation of a large-scale, innovative and sustainable police-academic research partnership – the N8 Policing Research Partnership (N8 PRP). The N8 PRP has provided a platform for research co-production and collaboration between the eight research-intensive universities of the N8 Research Partnership, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), police forces and other community safety partners across the North of England.

Underpinned by ESRC and College of Policing research grants and a five-year HEFCE/OfS Catalyst grant (2015-2020), the N8 PRP has changed how police forces and partners in the North of England organise and use research evidence, generate and share knowledge, and value research-informed policing practice. It has also influenced the development of evidence-based policing and mechanisms underpinning effective police-academic partnerships more broadly across the UK. Implementation of the Partnership has enhanced the application of research, leading to changes in frontline policing. 

Professor Crawford has led the partnership as director from its inception in 2013 until 2020. The longer-term sustainability of the partnership has been secured through collaborative funding by all partners. The project teams also includes Professor Stuart Lister and Dr Daniel Birks. Other colleagues involved in N8 PRP small grants include Professor Graham Farrell, Professor David Wall and Dr Sam Lewis.

Informing and influencing the European Commission to develop EU disability policy

The Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED), supported the European Commission to develop EU policy relating to disability, with the goal of achieving full participation and equality of opportunity for disabled people, in line with the European Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

ANED, which ran for ten years, produced a substantial body of work which informed and influenced the development of EU disability policy in various ways. 

As a member of its co-ordinating research team, Professor Anna Lawson played lead roles in different aspects of this work (working alongside the project’s scientific director Professor Mark Priestley of the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Leeds).

For example, in ANED’s early years, Professor Lawson played a lead role in the network’s work on disability rights monitoring and indicators – laying the groundwork for the development of DOTCOM: the Disability Online Tool of the Commission

In 2012-2014 Professor Lawson led ANED’s thematic work on accessibility, which helped the Commission to make the case for – and inform the content of – what became the European Accessibility Act. She also co-ordinated ANED’s thematic reports on social protection in 2017 [download] and the Right to Live Independently and be Included in the Community in 2019.

Safeguarding and revitalising urban public parks

Public parks provide over £6.6 billion in benefits each year in England. The importance of quality local public green spaces has been brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet deep funding cuts, increasing user demand and a lack of statutory protection have left local authorities struggling to provide and maintain urban parks that have been vital features of cities since the nineteenth century. 

Research by a multi-disciplinary team – Dr Anna Barker, Dr David Churchill, Professor Adam Crawford, Dr Jose Pina-Sánchez and Dr Nathan Booth – contributed to safeguarding and revitalising urban parks and their governance in the face of these challenges. Underpinned by multiple grants from the AHRC, ESRC, the National Lottery’s Heritage and Community Funds and Nesta, the research team collaborated with Leeds City Council and the Leeds Parks and Green Spaces Forum to explore the use, experience and prospects of parks in Leeds, in their Victorian origins and today, and worked with the national ‘Rethinking Parks’ programme to explore the potential to make parks more sustainable through donations and community engagement. 

The research influenced local policy and professional practice in Leeds parks services and informed Leeds City Council’s 2020-2030 parks strategy [PDF], particularly regarding the accessibility and quality of parks. Through public engagement, the research also cultivated civic involvement in park governance and shaped the Love Leeds Parks charitable initiative. It created a new digital archive of publicly-sourced historic photographs of Leeds parks hosted by Leeds Library Service. Nationally, government policymakers, parks charities and civil society organisations used the research to inform their thinking and strategies, including as evidence for a UK local authority parks toolkit, a national business case for parks, and for fundraising initiatives.