New project to trace the history of UK radical lawyering in the Law Centres movement

Monday, November 9th 2020


A public-funded research project will amass documents and testimonies that would be added to the national collections, documenting Law Centres’ contribution to UK society over their 50-year history.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has awarded a one-million-pound research grant to the Centre for Socio-legal Studies at the University of Oxford, to undertake a four-year oral history project on the Law Centres movement. This was announced on Friday, 6 November, at the Annual General Meeting of the Law Centres Network.

The project aims to address the lack of comprehensive, historical accounts of radical lawyering in the UK and to reflect on the ways in which Law Centres have been successful in tackling the issues surrounding the UK’s democratic deficit, by working in and alongside disadvantaged communities.

The research conducted within the project will focus on four key areas:

  • Innovative ways of lawyering pioneered by Law Centres;
  • New types of legal specialism developed in Law Centres that focused on the needs of the poor;
  • Law Centres’ roles in campaigns for legal reform;
  • Law Centres’ contribution to strategic litigation.

The project team will include Professor Kieran McEvoy and Dr Anna Bryson from Queens University in Belfast, who will be headed by Professor Linda Mulcahy, Director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies. The team will work in partnership with the Law Centres Network to produce a vast repository of images, statistics and stories about how Law Centres have helped to re-conceptualise the legal needs of the poor.

The repository will be deposited at the British Library and the project team will also work alongside the UK’s leading oral history fieldwork charity, National Life Stories at the British Library, to document the material.

Dr Rob Perks, the British Library’s Lead Curator of Oral History and Director of National Life Stories, said:

“This is an important partnership for the British Library which will add sixty-five in-depth life story interviews to the oral history collection, providing unparalleled insights into the history of the Law Centres movement. Researchers now and in the future will be able to understand the vital contribution of Law Centres in providing access to justice, and the role they have played in social, political and campaigning networks over time.”

Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, said:

“The Law Centres Network is delighted to be a partner on this project which will give much-needed recognition to the work that Law Centres have done in working with communities, enhancing access to justice and challenging unjust laws.”