Advice organisations, rather than professional lawyers, are becoming key players in legal arenas, particularly for citizens whose access to rights is most limited. A grant of over one million euros was awarded to Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Bristol Law School, by the European Research Council (ERC) to investigate the ways in which UK advice agencies mediate between citizens and the practices of law.
Through casework advice organisations can enable citizens to pursue their own rights, translating complex legal structures so that citizens can work within them. Casework allows agencies to see into the lives of ‘ordinary people’, and forms the basis for interventions in social policy. Through re-presenting the personal grievances of multiple clients as matters of public concern, they can show legislators and policy makers the ways in which policies and practices of powerful institutions create injustices for citizens, and can show how mechanisms meant to enable access to justice can instead throw up barriers to redressing injustices.
The programme comprises three research projects. The first looks at how Citizens Advice Bureaux help people resolve employment disputes; this project is carried out in collaboration with Prof. Nicole Busby at the University of Strathclyde Law School. The second project seeks to explore how homeless people experience law as they negotiate the various legal challenges associated with the current digitisation of advice and other public services. The third project, ‘Ideas of legality and citizenship’ takes a detailed and unique look at the work done by CAB managers and advisers.