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Some Reflections on the Relationship between Citizenship, Access to Justice, and the Reform of Legal Aid

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The reflexive, reciprocally constitutive relationship between law and society makes a substantive right of access to justice pivotal to the content of citizenship. It is therefore arguable that the establishment of legal aid, however limited in practice, was fundamental to the expanded citizenship which the post-war settlement sought to achieve. However this social form of citizenship has been attenuated by the reconfiguration of the state and the neo-liberal reconstruction of the public sector. Yet at the same time, the concepts of citizenship and social exclusion have become key discursive mechanisms in this reconstruction, including in the New Labour reform of the legal aid sector. This paper considers the various meanings attributed to the concepts of citizenship, social exclusion, and access to justice through the optic of the history of policy changes in legal aid. The impact of globalization and economic restructuring on social citizenship is explored, both in terms of the experience of recipients of public goods like legal services, and the professionals who supply them. The commensurability of the New Labour Community Legal Service (CLS) model with other models of justice is discussed. The conclusion briefly returns to the theme of law's ‘citizen-constitutive’ role and considers the potential of the CLS for combating social exclusion.
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Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: 2004-09-01

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