Cooper, Lauren

Cooper, Lauren
Start date:
October 2016
Research Topic:
Asylum Law
Research pathway:
Research Supervisor:
Bernadette Rainey
Supervising school:
School of Law and Politics,
Primary funding source:
ESRC Studentship

The concept of Justice has frequently been discussed, yet never adequately defined. Dictionary definitions indicate ‘just’ or ‘reasonable’ behaviour, and ‘fairness’, yet these terms fail to clear up the ambiguity behind the concept. Authors adopt different frameworks of Justice, such as Rawls’ 2 main principles of Liberty and Equality. This project will consider what Justice should mean for asylum seekers including access to the legal system, due process, and success for valid cases. I plan to ask asylum seekers what their idea of Justice is, and compare it to that of other stakeholders as this may be the area of disconnect. The project will consider whether there is a relationship between structures and the agency of asylum seekers, citizens and other relevant actors; and access to justice. Structuration theory will be used as a conceptual framework to examine how the duality of structure operates to constrain and enable asylum seekers. This theory explores the relationship between structure and agency, giving primacy to neither. Anthony Giddens defines structure as patterns of rules and resources, which exist virtually. For Giddens, society is constructed through the ongoing activity of actors as they draw upon these structures. Structure is therefore the medium through which agents act, and the outcome of these acts.

It is well recognised that the form and function of structure/agency is a product of context and this thesis will explore the structure/agency debate in the context of access to justice for the asylum seeker population. From informal conversations with members of third party organisations dedicated to helping asylum seekers; I have found 3 key concerns relating to access to justice for asylum seekers.

  • A lack of (good) legal representation,
  • Highly complex and lengthy asylum system, and
  • ‘Failure’ on behalf of the government meaning that 3rd party organisations have to work beyond their role. Asylum policies are deliberately harsh and hostile, to deter large numbers of claims; 3rd party organisations see this as failing to protect asylum seekers.

These concerns can all influence access to justice.

In order to fully explore the question of justice for asylum seekers, the project will investigate the variables that influence legal aid provision and legal representation for asylum claims using a mixed methods approach. The study will investigate whether access to justice is influenced by both structural and agency-related factors. I will undertake:

  • Quantitative analysis. The official datasets (immigration and legal aid statistics (UK and Wales)/EUROSTAT/UNHCR) only provide basic demographic data of those seeking asylum. Drawing on the data held by Asylum Justice, this study will create a detailed data collection system, facilitating both descriptive statistical analysis and exploration of the characteristics which influence the decisions on legal aid and representation. There is little empirical data available to facilitate the analysis of the influence of representation in asylum hearings. This study will survey court users to assess the factors that influence successful outcome, comparing those who have legal representation through legal aid/charitable provision and litigants in person.
  • Qualitative analysis. The data will be enriched by semi-structured interviews with Asylum Justice clients, legal representatives and other relevant actors in the decision-making process. These interviews will focus on indications of ‘success’ including clarity, consistency and effective representation. I will also begin the study by conducting ethnographic observations at Columbus House’ Asylum Tribunal; looking at whether the applicant has agency; whether they are enabled or constrained in the process. These observations should give some insight into the structures that enable/constrain asylum seekers.

This study will be used to support policy development with relevant Welsh public bodies and will make a significant contribution to academic debates surrounding access to justice in Wales.