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New Research Project on Accessible Legal Information

I’m really excited to be able to share the news that the CLARiTY project team, plus a few new colleagues, are starting a new research project on Co-Producing Accessible Legal Information.

The project research team includes me (Prof Rosie Harding, Birmingham Law School), Dr Amanda Keeling (University of Leeds), Dhanishka Seneviratne (Birmingham Law School), and our project partners, Philipa Bragman OBE (Consultant Facilitator), Sophie O’Connell (Wilsons Solicitors), and People First (Self-Advocacy) Ltd.

Together, the findings from the Everyday Decisions, Supported Will-Making and CLARiTY projects have shown that there is often a need for accessible legal information about common legal problems. Since completing that research, I have given a number of presentations at webinars and conferences, and from the questions and responses to these, it has become clear that legal professionals need training and support to be able to develop accessible legal information for their clients.

This new ‘Co-Producing Accessible Legal Information’ project will bring legal professionals together with disabled people to co-produce accessible legal information and explore the relationship between legal advice and legal information. As part of the co-production process, we will help train legal professionals in communicating accessibly with disabled clients, evaluate the process, and develop a model for egalitarian co-production, and working together across differences. We also hope to produce some accessible legal information templates, that participants will be able to share with their firms and colleagues.

Why is accessible legal information needed?

Often, law and legal ideas can be complicated, which is why it takes such a long time to become a legal professional (to train as a solicitor, for example, people usually have to complete a law degree plus another year of vocational training, along with two more years of qualifying work experience). One of the big challenges of communicating about law is making complicated legal ideas, legislation and case law clearly understood by people who are not legal specialists. This is a core skill in legal practice, particularly in areas of law like court of protection work, private client, and family law, where clients may be seeking legal advice at particularly stressful and difficult times in their lives.

When people with learning disabilities or other kinds of cognitive impairments seek legal advice, the stakes are often particularly high for them. This is because if they don’t understand the advice they are given, then they could be labeled as ‘lacking capacity’ to make a decision about the issue under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This can, in turn, lead to a range of complexities in their lives like capacity assessments and best interests decisions. Yet in the Everyday Decision project, we found that people often had very little support to help them make legal decisions. In the Supported Will-Making project, we explored how well existing private law safeguards work to help cognitively disabled people to make a will or to protect them from financial abuse. We suggested that the current approach did not work well to support testamentary capacity.

At least part of the challenge of ensuring that disabled people have the support they need to make legally-relevant decisions and choices is making information about law easily available. Easy read, accessible legal information can help close this access to justice gap.

Our previous work on accessible legal information

In the CLARiTY Project, we produced some accessible legal information on topics that were particularly relevant to disabled people and family carers during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. The information that we produced included some easy-read information and some video explainers about timely legal topics. We also produced a report that made the case for accessible legal information.

This new project builds on that work, and we aim to produce a toolkit that will help legal professionals make their services more accessible to clients with learning disabilities and other cognitive impairments (like acquired brain injuries or neurodegenerative conditions like dementia).

How can you get involved?

We are looking for disabled people and legal professionals to join the co-production group, which will meet in person three times over a six-month period. If you think you might be interested in getting involved, please read the further information about our study, and get in touch, using the contact form on our take part pages.

If you have questions about the project, then you are very welcome to contact us for more information.

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