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Queen’s awarded research grant to examine the Law Centres movement

Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Oxford have been awarded a £1million research grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to undertake a ground-breaking four-year oral history project on the Law Centres movement.

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The project aims to address the lack of in-depth accounts of radical lawyering in the UK and to consider the ways in which Law Centres – which work in and with disadvantaged communities - have been successful in contributing to UK society over their 50-year history. 

65 in-depth oral history interviews recorded with participants across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be archived at the British Library through the project’s partnership with National Life Stories, the prestigious oral history fieldwork charity.  

The project will be led by Professor Linda Mulcahy, Director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford, in collaboration with Professor Kieran McEvoy and Dr Anna Bryson from the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast.  

Speaking about the Northern Ireland element of the project, Dr Anna Bryson said: “Since 1977 the Law Centre NI has been delivering free and independent legal services to poor and disadvantaged communities. Besides representing people who cannot afford a lawyer, their way of working has affected progressive and lasting changes to law, policy and practice.” 

Professor Kieran McEvoy added: “Queen's has long had an interest both in law in action and in the impact that lawyers can have in trying to improve the lives of ordinary people. Throughout the darkest days of the conflict the Law Centre was there to support the most vulnerable in our society. We are really looking forward to exploring that rich history with the people that made it.”

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 research 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 those who cannot afford to pay for legal support.

In addition to the creation of the substantial oral history archive, the project team will create a digital collection of text-searchable Law Centre annual reports which will also be deposited at the British Library. This will give generations of future researchers access to a rich repository of images, statistics and personal testimonies about how the legal needs of the poor were re-conceptualised. This will be a significant and lasting resource for academics, journalists, lawyers and all those interested in active citizenship. 

For more information on the project, please visit: https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/policy/news/news/new-project-to-trace-the-history-of-uk-radical-lawyering-in-the-law-centres-movement

 

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