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, 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, including the use of the randomised control trial in studying the impact of legal advice. 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 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. Legal aid reform programmes around the world have been influenced considerably by Hazel Genn's Paths to Justice, Pascoe Pleasence's Causes of Action and the associated work of Nigel Balmer. The provision of public legal services has likewise been influenced greatly by Richard Moorhead's legal practice research. 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. In addition, Pleasence's work on legal needs has provided strategic information to state and federal organisations in Australia, informing and influencing access to justice policy development there. CELS participation in the ESRC-funded Understanding Individual Behaviour Exploratory Network (UIBEN) has also helped to develop interdisciplinary understanding of legal decision-making.
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. Members of the centre also incorporate empirical methods and findings into a range of other courses across the Faculty's undergraduate and postgraduate provision.