Lived Experience of the Law: A research and policy project
Lived Experience of the Law: A research and policy project is a partnership between ICPR, Birkbeck and the national charity Revolving Doors. The project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation (JUS /FR-000023828). It began in January 2023 and will be completed by September, 2025.
Effective participation in court proceedings is foundational to the delivery of justice; a principle promoted in law, policy and guidance. It also relates closely to the broader principle of access to justice. Yet little is known about the understandings, expectations and experiences of ‘participation’ and ‘access to justice’ on the part of members of the public who find themselves caught up in judicial proceedings. To fill this knowledge gap, this project aims to gain insight into the ways in which ‘the law’ is experienced and understood by individuals who are involved in criminal and family proceedings; and to examine the implications of lived experience of the law for effective participation and access to justice.
Research questions and approach
The research focuses on three main questions:
- How are perceptions and expectations of legal rights, justice and the judicial process shaped by individuals’ formal and informal encounters with the law over time?
To address this question, we are conducting in-depth interviews with a diverse range of individuals who have recently attended family or criminal court hearings. The interviews will focus on formal and informal encounters with the law since childhood and explore how, cumulatively, these encounters shape respondents’ perceptions of legal rights and their capacity and willingness to engage with the judicial process; their conceptions of fairness and justice; and their expectations of the courts and the wider justice system, including barriers to engagement and participation.
- How can the concepts of ‘effective participation’ and ‘access to justice’ most usefully be defined from a lived experience perspective, and what are the main barriers to participation and access?
To address this question, we will analyse interview findings alongside a review of developments since 2000 in law, policy, guidance, socio-legal research and public legal education, relating to access to justice and effective participation in England and Wales. Integrating interview findings and other data sources, we will: elaborate lay, legal, conceptual and practice-based definitions of ‘effective participation’ and ‘access to justice’; identify barriers to and facilitators of participation and access; identify areas in which there is the greatest need for policy, practice and educational reform; and begin to scope out potential directions and facets of reform.
- What reforms – in terms of policy, practice and public legal education – are needed to address existing barriers to participation and access, and how can the implementation of these reforms best be supported?
In the final stage of the project, we will be organising a series of policy workshops to bring together lay court users and professional stakeholders to review and discuss study findings. The purpose of the workshops will be to develop feasible reform recommendations that are aimed at supporting participation and access to justice, and grounded in the practical realities of the courts, wider justice system and public legal education.
This is a co-produced research project in two respects:
- Peer researchers with lived experience will be involved in the design and delivery of all aspects of the research, including as co-interviewers and co-facilitators of the policy workshops. Their involvement will help the research team to develop sensitive and appropriately targeted research instruments; to recruit and build rapport with respondents from diverse backgrounds; and to remain alert and responsive to contrasting perspectives.
- The policy workshops are explicitly focused on co-production. They will give rise to conclusions and recommendations developed through discussion, reflection and exchange between justice professionals and lay court users – two groups which rarely meet outside formal judicial proceedings.