Paths to Justice

In 1996, Professor Dame Hazel Genn (UCL Professor of Socio-Legal Studies) was commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation to conduct a national survey of public experiences of the justice system in England and Wales and another the following year in Scotland. The result, Paths to Justice, was a landmark body of research that:

  • provided unique data on the public experience of the justice system
  • transformed understanding and policy on the legal needs of citizens
  • led to the adaptation of legal aid and legal services to citizens’ needs.

Paths to Justice found that involvement in everyday legal problems was widespread, and that problems often ‘cluster’ together with identifiable ‘trigger’ events producing a cascade of further problems that can significantly impact public health and well-being.

This indicated a need for targeted early advice and intervention. But the study found that people were often unable to access information and advice, that they felt powerless, unsure of their rights and confused about where to obtain help. This was especially true for socially excluded groups.

The Paths to Justice research has produced a fundamental shift in justice policy thinking from a focus on lawyers and courts to a focus on the needs of the public.

It recommended targeting socially excluded groups with legal awareness, improving signposting of free services and more ‘joined up’ services.

The research led to UK government changes in the design and delivery of services. Spending on legal aid through the Legal Services Commission in the UK and the Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in Australia has been shaped by the report findings, including funding for outreach, joining up legal and non-legal services, early intervention, and targeting those most in need.

The Paths to Justice survey is now funded by the Ministry of Justice as a continuous panel study, the Civil and Social Justice Survey, and it has been replicated in 14 different jurisdictions around the world including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Taiwan, Netherlands, Moldova and Scotland.

Learn more about Paths to Justice

Read more about Paths to justice – a past, present and future roadmap on the Nuffield Foundation website.

Find out more about access to justice at UCL Laws on the UCL Centre for Access to Justice website.

British Academy: Prospering Wisely

Watch an interview with Professor Genn for the British Academy’s Prospering Wisely project, which explores how the humanities and social sciences enrich our lives. You can also read the interview in full on the Prospering Wisely website.

Why the courts are as important as hospitals to the nation’s health
UCL Lunch Hour Lecture, 3 November 2009

In this UCL Lunch Hour Lecture, Professor Genn uses the findings from Paths to Justice and other legal needs studies to demonstrate the link between access to justice and health.

She discusses new evidence about the impact of lack of access to justice on well-being and considers whether many of the issues brought by patients to their GP, including requests for anti-depressants, are in fact the result of an inability to access the courts.  She also discusses the critical ways in which courts support society and the economy, and how they have directly improved standards of medical practice and health care.

Publications

Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think About Going to Law (1999). Paths to Justice Scotland: What Scottish People Do and Think About Going to Law (with Alan Paterson, 2001).
Hazel Genn, Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think About Going to Law (1999) Hazel Genn and Alan Paterson, Paths to Justice Scotland: What Scottish People Do and Think About Going to Law (with Alan Paterson, 2001)
Paths to Justice: A past, present and future roadmap by Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel J. Balmer and Rebecca L. Sandefur
Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel J. Balmer and Rebecca L. Sandefur, Paths to Justice: A past, present and future roadmap (2013)