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The Independent Review of England’s agri-food systems, commonly known as the National Food Strategy (NFS), was commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2019. The NFS report, published in two stages in 2020 and 2021, outlines a range of interventions and policy proposals to achieve better agri-food outcomes in terms of public health and environmental sustainability. This commentary focuses on the challenges associated with incorporating a diversity of voices within the NFS’s evidence base. To achieve this, the NFS mobilised a series of public dialogue events to capture lay perspectives. Led by professional facilitators, these events sought to open a deliberative space to explore the workings of agri-food systems, leading to the publication of a public engagement report in late 2021. While diverse views were recorded, the report found ‘a strong appetite for change’ among the participants, eager to address the problems associated with current agri-food systems. In commenting on the dialogue process, we identify three distinct problematics which arise from the NFS’s public engagement strategy. Firstly, we consider the array of subject positions at play in the report. Secondly, we discuss the ‘epistemologies of engagement’, reflecting on the different forms of knowledge that are enrolled through the process of public engagement. Thirdly, we consider the under-acknowledged politics that are at play in these kinds of public engagement exercises and the limits of ‘co-production’ as a methodological principle. We conclude by drawing out the wider (national and international) implications of this particular form of public engagement which aims to incorporate lay perspectives into policy development processes.

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Current British abortion law combines criminal prohibitions against abortion with an exception, carved out by the Abortion Act 1967, which provides that these offences do not apply where an abortion is performed in line with its requirements (see Chapter One). In the event of decriminalisation, the Abortion Act would necessarily be either very radically revised or repealed in its entirety alongside the removal of the criminal prohibitions. This has led some to worry that important safeguards against unethical or unsafe practice would be lost (for example, Caulfield, 2017: cols 30–1). In this chapter, we consider the basis for such concerns in the light of the legal regulation that would continue to apply following decriminalisation. We concentrate on the law of England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland, where the Abortion Act has never applied, will be considered separately in the following chapter.

As we will show, the concern that decriminalisation amounts to deregulation is misplaced. Rather, abortion services are already (and would remain) subject to a dense web of other regulation, including general provisions of criminal and civil law, licensing and inspection requirements, and professional oversight (see further BMA, 2019). We begin by setting out the regulatory framework that is designed to promote good governance and high quality, patient-centred care in health services. We then move on to focus, in particular, on two issues that have provoked concern in the context of abortion services. First, we explain how the robust regulation of informed consent, confidentiality, counselling and safeguarding would be ensured following decriminalisation.

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In Chapter 6, Exploring the Role of Procedural Justice in Tribunals and Ombuds, we draw on data and findings produced by our online experimental study. We consider the idea that experiencing procedural justice during tribunals and ombuds hearings is important not only in shaping legitimacy but also in influencing perceptions of outcome fairness, satisfaction and willingness to engage with the system in the future. We also assess whether the findings are different for online and offline proceedings.

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In Chapter 1, Legal Needs and Access to Justice, we develop the argument for a holistic vision of access to justice. We expand Wrbka’s definition of ‘the concept of access to justice that embodies the ideal that everybody, regardless of his or her capabilities, should have the chance to enjoy the protection and enforcement of his or her rights by the use of law and the legal system’ and argue that we need a broader definition. To date, access to justice is refined to a narrow ‘legal justice’ focus, involving access to legal assistance in the form of legal advice and access to resolution in the form of legal institutions. A more generous vision for access to justice is needed to include initial advice and help from non-legal support, social and community actors (for example, friends, family, advice sector, local council, specialist organizations (NGOs), schools, the internet) to be part of the delivery of access to justice. As part of this vision, we discuss the legal needs literature and propose a more generous approach to access to justice, reaching beyond legal confines. After that, we distinguish access to offline justice from access to online justice. Then, we set out theoretical frameworks through which to understand (and measure) access to justice in our dataset; namely, legal consciousness and procedural justice.

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Through the lens of procedural justice theory, Chapter 2, Trust in Administrative Justice, captures people’s experiences of, and sensibilities towards, moving parts of the AJS online. Prior research has found that procedural justice and the trust and legitimacy it engenders helps to strengthen people’s willingness to cooperate with the police, courts and other justice institutions, and to comply with their directives and the law in general. Yet, little is known about whether and how this process ‘works’ in an administrative justice context within which interactions are increasingly occurring primarily, or solely, online. This chapter will also explore the role of emotions in the encounters with the AJS, marked by strong asymmetric dependence and power. This chapter provides the theoretical foundation for the analysis and experimental vignettes in Chapter 6.

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Chapter 8, Marginalized Groups and Unmet Legal Needs, explores how the pandemic has affected access to advice and redress for marginalized groups. Already marginalized communities are likely to be affected the most by the pandemic. Yet, we know relatively little about how members of these groups are accessing the justice system and what can be done during and after the pandemic to improve their capacity to obtain advice, support and redress. The digital age has brought both opportunities and challenges to the access to justice landscape. While advancements in technology have made justice more accessible to some, they have also created barriers for others, especially those who are digitally and legally excluded. Our empirical data show that there is a need for inclusive justice that addresses the unmet legal needs of marginalized groups, provides support and guidance for legal needs and promotes knowledge and awareness of tribunals and ombuds. Additionally, procedural justice plays a crucial role in establishing legitimacy in the digital age, and communication that considers both the form and content can have a significant impact on the emotional experiences of service users. It is essential to consider the unique vulnerabilities and capabilities of different groups and aim towards creating a justice system that serves everyone, including the digitally and legally abandoned.

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This is a book about institutions in the administrative justice system (AJS), their users and pathways to justice. The AJS is made up of institutions that help individuals when the government acts in ways that are unfair or unjust. The institutions that form the AJS are complaint schemes, ombuds, tribunals and the Administrative Court. They influence our lives in areas of housing, health care, education, social security and taxation, for example. This book is based on a Nuffield-funded research project and is about people who administer institutions of the AJS, about people who use institutions of the AJS, and about those who do not access institutions of the AJS. We explore these different positions in the AJS through two distinct pathways to seek redress: housing and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

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Chapter 9, Conclusion: Digital Journeys, brings together the empirical findings of the project and critically assesses what we have learned from doing research with marginalized groups and how we might rethink the approaches to understanding access to justice. We offer a more nuanced understanding of people’s digital journeys through bringing procedural justice to the concept of digital legal consciousness, as well as three dimensions that came out of our data: digital, affective and compound. This wider perspective can help identify barriers to access and inform strategies to improve access to justice. Ultimately, a more fine-grained understanding of digital legal consciousness will require ongoing research and collaboration between legal practitioners, policymakers and technology experts.

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This book extends existing research by examining the effect of rapid digitalization and the notion of digital justice on the delivery of justice. We follow help-seeker pathways to justice across two areas: housing and special educational needs and disabilities. We question whether a siloed landscape of advice, NGOs, tribunals and ombuds can provide adequate access to justice; what lessons about digitalization and pathways to justice can be learned; and how trust in justice – the belief that the justice system is fair, effective and open to all – can be maintained.

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Chapter 7, Access to Digital Justice, asks the central question: how accessible is online justice? This chapter explores how those who administer justice, those who provide advice and those who use the online justice system experience it. In doing so, we explore how the use of technology in the justice system is shaped by, and may reshape, people’s orientations and sensibilities towards law and technology. We use our data, in this chapter, to explore how consciousness of how people think and feel about the law relates to their capability of acting upon it.

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