In partnership with the University of Warwick and Law for Life this 18 month project will provide evidence of the legal needs that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic and the impact of increasing reliance on digital technology. It will also contribute to a greater understanding of the role of public legal education(PLE) in improving access to justice for marginalised groups. This project is funded by Nuffield Foundation.

A local, qualitative study of legal need in Coventry will focus on the inter-relationships between legal and digital capability and the experience of social welfare and family law problems amongst priority groups. We will draw on the findings to design,deliver and evaluate a PLE programme for community groups. This programme will build on strategies developed by the the Law Centre during the pandemic, supporting their transformation from crisis response to embedded approach.

The pandemic has dramatically increased legal need and pressure on frontline services to meet it. Evidence suggests increases in the incidence of legal problems and an exacerbation of problems related to digital exclusion. This is occurring in the wider context of long standing legal needs, exacerbated by cuts to legal aid, and the Ministry of Justice’s fast-paced ‘digital-by-default’ reform programme.

Our project will make a difference in two key ways:

  1. Contributing qualitative data to the emerging national understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on legal need, and to the intersection between legal and digital capability; and
  2. Creating a research-informed model to support frontline legal services to develop effective PLE strategies with community groups to help them reach more people.

So far, the research has focused on insight provided by people working in frontline organisations who directly support individuals and communities concerned in the study. Interviews with the organisations, as well as background data collection and a local stakeholder workshop, have provided such valuable insight into the experiences of marginalised groups that the researchers have published a briefing on the emerging findings.