The Centre for Empirical Legal Studies (formerly the Centre for Socio-Legal
Studies) was established in 2007 to bring together experts across a range
of social science disciplines to engage in interdisciplinary research
with a bearing on law. The Centre’s ambitions are to be a world
leader of methodological innovation in empirical legal studies, to build
research capacity in the United Kingdom and to promote the evidence led
evolution of justice systems around the world.
Through its current membership, the Centre is able to draw upon expertise
in fields as diverse as law, economics, sociology, criminology, statistics,
psychology and political science, to bring new perspectives to bear upon
the study of law and legal institutions.
The emphasis in the work of the centre is on empirical research investigating
the operation and effects of law within the context of the social, economic
and political environment. The work of the centre is concerned with the
role and function of law, the enforcement of law, compliance with law,
resistance to law, the use and experience of law, the impact of law and
the character of law itself.
Members’ current research is funded from a variety of national
and international research, government and charitable sources. Much of
it is carried out at the boundaries of current knowledge and members have
pioneered a number of approaches to the empirical study of law. The Centre’s
engagement in research of the highest quality is reflected also in member
representation on the Boards of many leading journals in the field, such
as the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Law and Society Review and
International Journal of Law in Context.
Members of the Centre have been responsible for some of the leading texts
in the empirical legal studies tradition and, through these, contributed
to real world change in the way that law and legal systems function. Lord
Woolf’s inquiry into the civil justice system (1994-1996), which
led to substantial reform of the rules of civil litigation, drew heavily
upon a survey of litigation costs undertaken by Hazel Genn. The current
civil legal aid reform programme has been influenced considerably by Pascoe
Pleasence’s Causes of Action and the associated work of Nigel Balmer.
Elaine Gender’s collaborative research into the Therapeutic Community
(TC) at HMP Grendon Underwood underpins (and is frequently quoted in)
much of the Prison Services Core Model Theory Manual. Cheryl Thomas’
work on juries has also led directly to the development of new procedures
by Her Majesty’s Court Service for managing juries on long trials.
Members of the Centre also actively engage in knowledge transfer through
an array of advisory roles and appointments.
From September 2008 the Centre introduced a graduate course, “Law in the Real World: An Introduction to How Law Works”, which introduces to graduate students the value that can be brought to our understanding of the law by the application of social scientific methods.