Press release issued 3 August 2011Advice 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 has been awarded to Dr Morag McDermont at the University of Bristol by the European Research Council (ERC) to investigate the ways in which UK advice agencies mediate between citizens and the practices of law.
Dr McDermont, a Senior Lecturer from the University’s School of Law, will lead a research team in a four-year study of the role of advice agencies. The research will focus primarily on Citizens Advice — the UK’s leading advice organisation — to understand how people experience law in their everyday lives.
Through casework advice organisations can enable citizens to pursue their own rights, translating complex legal structures so that citizens can work within them. Casework then 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 to 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.
Dr McDermont said: "At a time of ever-deepening inequalities, it’s important to understand how institutions such as advice agencies, which perform multiple and complex roles, can mediate and make possible interventions into the areas of everyday life that become infused with law, such as workplace relations, consumer relations and caring relations.
“Such organisations can provide a window for social policy makers and legislators through which they can better understand the social action of law.”
One project in the research programme will look at how Citizens Advice Bureaux help people resolve employment disputes. By examining the barriers people experience in engaging with employment tribunals and other governmental institutions, the research will open up new insights into the ways that advice agencies can help transform everyday injustices and empower citizens.
The research, entitled ‘New Sites of Legal Consciousness: A Case Study of UK Advice Agencies’, forms part of the ERC’s “Ideas” programme and is led by Dr McDermont. Dr Nicole Busby of the University of Stirling and Prof John Clarke of the Open University, will each be collaborating on aspects of this project, which will commence in October 2011.
The European Research Council
The European Research Council (ERC) is the first European funding body set up to support investigator-driven frontier research.
Its main aim is to stimulate scientific excellence by supporting and encouraging the very best, truly creative scientists, scholars and engineers to be adventurous and take risks in their research. The scientists are encouraged to go beyond established frontiers of knowledge and the boundaries of disciplines.
The ERC complements other funding activities in Europe such as those of the national research funding agencies, and is a flagship component of the 'Ideas Programme' of the European Union's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7).
Dr Morag McDermont
At a time of ever-deepening inequalities, it’s important to understand how institutions such as advice agencies, which perform multiple and complex roles, can mediate and make possible interventions into the areas of everyday life that become infused with law, such as workplace relations, consumer relations and caring relations.