This research group focuses on legal and social science issues. The social research conducted by the group focuses on how justice can be made accessible to everyone. In particular, we focus on the role of the local professional, who is not necessarily legally trained.
Access to the law is a characteristic of a well-functioning constitutional state, in which freedom, legal certainty and equality are central concepts. It also means that the power of the (local) government is itself limited by laws, regulations and habits. However, reality is somewhat more contentious. While official policy does acknowledge that promoting safety, public service and access to the law is important for every person, this is often interpreted or implemented differently at the local level.
Research reveals that there are various bottlenecks in the area of access to adequate legal assistance and services. Incorporating these results in practical training and educational programmes can ensure an improvement of the quality of the services provided by legal and social professionals, as well as improved accessibility of the system for all citizens.
More legal questions among citizens and professionals
The Access to Law research group mainly focuses on new forms of law, such as alternative dispute resolution, digital complaints procedures, or the role of local professionals and volunteers in ensuring legal assistance and legal protection. One example of this is the number of ongoing questions raised by social and legal professionals as a result of the recent decentralization of government tasks toward municipalities.
What exactly are the needs of citizens? Do citizens have sufficient knowledge to participate in our democratic constitutional state? How does one deal with legal self-reliance in so-called kitchen table discussions? What role do human rights play in the local approach to extremism? Are privacy and equality being adequately guaranteed by the municipality, police and social workers? And what about these issues when it comes to cyberspace? How do we face the digital accessibility of the law?
Through the so-called ‘Legal Empowerment Lab’, The Access to Law research group establishes the link between (student) practical research and questions from citizens, policy makers and civil society. This is done in collaboration with the Institute for Law at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.
Research lines within the research group
Legal Empowerment & Access to Law
Access to the law requires legal certainty as well as legal equality. This covers a range of topics, such as the legal skills of social workers, the quality of mediation in criminal cases, and the digital skills of citizens. Because the concepts are often conceptual in nature, the research group also conducts literature reviews with regard to the concepts of Legal Empowerment and Access to Law. This includes a review of the policy that has been set out in this context.
Legal capability & frontline professionals.
Through a number of observational studies, the research group is investigating the legal awareness of those who are at the cutting edge of services and the law, such as frontline staff and specialists from social neighborhood teams and social forensic professionals. Especially during these first few years after the decentralization of governmental tasks, many questions are raised about access to the law and the role of local professionals. So-called ‘legal capabilities’ are receiving the bulk of attention, that is, the ability and self-confidence of citizens and professionals to be able to understand the law, including the legal implications this may have for one’s actions. The first study is called ‘Support and justice at the kitchen table in Utrecht’. It is an exploration of the legal capabilities of both generalists and specialists in the context of the Social Support Act (WMO).
Access to Justice & Local Security Interventions
A series of technical reports describe how the ‘early signalling’ of potentially high-risk individuals in the context of counter terrorism is carried out at local level. The impetus for these reports is the evidence of (side) effects of certain security measures, such as the constitutional state's 'countering violent extremism' (CVE) policy. In particular, this research line focuses on the role of (local) professionals, such as youth workers, municipal safety directors and neighborhood police officers. How do they fulfill the assignment to be actively alert to deviant behaviour and ideas? What is to be considered the norm? And to what extent does equality play a role in dealing with different forms of extremism? Although terrorism experts, the United Nations and the European Commission repeatedly point out the importance of human rights in counter-terrorism strategies, hardly any practical research has been done into how this actually functions in day-to-day operations.