Research themes

Centre for Law and Social Justice

law students in city centre offices

The work of Centre for Law and Social Justice members are brought together through three cross-cutting themes.

Defining, accessing and enacting justice

A core strand of research within L&SJ, this theme seeks to reveal and engage critically with the diverse contexts and ways in which individuals and groups struggle to define, access and attempt to enact justice. Problems with the unevenness of access to justice are longstanding and occur across the globe. In the UK, many such inequalities have increased in recent times because of cuts to legal aid funding, increased court and tribunal fees, (proposed) reductions in the number of courts, and so forth. For some individuals and groups, access to justice is not synonymous with traditional modes of legal representation, and a number of Centre members respond to limitations in traditional legal processes by exploring alternative forms of justice (for example, restorative justice practices, indigenous justice, etc.), as strategies to achieve justice in ways that challenge and exceed formal legal representation.

Members’ work is focussed on a range of specific and overlapping contexts where access to, or the enactment of justice, is a central feature. Although access to justice is a unifying theme, members’ research projects engage with a range of cross-cutting issues and perspectives including the following: access to justice and disability, including mental health (Clements, Ellison, Keeling, Lawson and Lewis); diversity in the professions (Francis, Solanke, and Sommerlad); education; family court decision-making (Thomson); financial services (Brown); indigenous justice (Hendry); law and religion (Trispiotis); legal aid, access to justice and the family courts (Francis and Sommerlad); justice and international legal orders (Lewis, Mukherjee, van Sliedregt, and Zavoli); legal culture/s (Taylor-Harding and Hendry); legal capacity (Clements, Lawson, Lewis, Keeling, and de Sabbata); legal ethics (Travis, Francis, and Sommerlad); legal pluralism and international justice (Hendry and van Sliedregt); youth justice (Lewis and Lewis); medical decision-making (de Sabbata and Purshouse); prisoners’ families and social justice (Abass); procedural hybrids (Hendry); and vulnerability theory (Brown, Clough, Fineman, Hendry, Keeling, Lewis, Marvel, Thomson, and Travis).

In its engagement with disability, race, gender, class, social diversity, inequality, human rights, childhood and health, the defining, accessing and enacting justice theme clearly has significant relevance across all research centres within the School.

Just and resilient communities

Research on just and resilient communities is concerned with global, international, transnational and comparative legal perspectives that bring forward the connections between social justice and fundamental rights and legal principles. International legal studies and the study of activism and social movements are both central to our understanding of the formal and informal processes that support current and future generations to create fair, healthy, liveable, diverse, equitable, and inter-generationally sustainable communities.

This strand of research engages with activism and social movements, and considers their role in shaping procedures which can consolidate and protract just and resilient communities. This includes specific legal mechanisms, such as judicial review, authority, judicial diversity and access to justice, as well as more general values and social goals, including equality, legality and social inclusion. It is similarly concerned with the relationship between the state and individuals, notably the universal need for resilience that legitimates claims for state responsibility to ensure meaningful access to and opportunity within its institutions.

At the core of this work is a shared understanding that institutions and social relationships are created and maintained by and through law, and the resultant recognition that their operation and effects should be considered – at least partly – to be the ongoing responsibility of those who govern societies. Several colleagues work on just and resilient societies, sustainable communities and social movements from a variety of different angles. There is notable strength in terms of people working with activism and social movements (Clements and Lewis); agriculture (Cardwell and Smith); education (Lewis); equality, non-discrimination and intersectionality (Abass, Lawson, Solanke and Trispiotis); the environment (Bradshaw); food, food waste, and food justice (Bradshaw, Cardwell and Smith); human rights law, human rights theory and international legal studies (Clements, Keeling, Lawson, Lewis, Moosavian, Mukherjee and Trispiotis); immigration and refugee protection (Solanke); indigenous justice (Hendry); labour rights and basic income (Dietz); vulnerability theory (Brown, Clough, Fineman, Hendry, Keeling, Lewis, Marvel, Travis, and Thomson); and other theoretical models of social justice, such as relational theories, the capabilities approach, and the social model of disability (Clements, Clough, Dietz, Greenwood-Reeves, Hendry, Keeling, Lawson, Lewis, Pearl, and Thomson). Again, this theme has significant relevance across the School and the University.

Health, embodiment and justice

Contemporary understandings of social justice recognise health as an essential component of well-being and flourishing. Renewed focus is now being placed on health justice and health equity at a global scale. Scholars working in the Centre address health and access to services within the wider context of equality and justice. Members are concerned with the place of health and the body within political and social theory (Clough, Dietz, Fineman, Marvel, Purshouse, Thomson and Travis). Others interrogate access to specific services, such as trans (Dietz) or reproductive services (Marvel and Thomson). At the same time, a number are concerned with what can be considered the excesses of medical intervention, particularly in the context of children's rights (Thomson and Travis) and mental health (Clements, Clough, and Keeling).

Integrated in these projects is a theoretical concern with the institutional regulation and cultural production of material bodies. Members engage approaches that are attentive to the ways in which bodies are institutionally understood, framed, and structured; allowing for the development of analytical frameworks which recognise the constitutive effects of the legal discourses and practices which construct and regulate health, embodied choices, gendered, raced, sexed, disabled bodies, and so forth (Clough, Dietz, Fineman, Marvel, Solanke, Thomson and Travis). The Centre’s research also considers the changing relations between these institutions, concentrating on moments of tension, resistance, and co-option in order to find new solutions to questions of social justice. Such research agendas address real-world issues, and have led to Centre members working with a number of NGOs, charities, and governmental departments with a view to effecting change, challenging inequalities, and promoting positive health outcomes.