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Vulnerability in the courts: A research and policy project

Researchers: Professor Penny Cooper | Dr Jessica Jacobson ...

Project overview

The overarching aim of this project is to contribute to improved provision for vulnerable court users (witnesses, defendants and parties) and thereby to the evolution of a courts system in England and Wales that is genuinely accessible to all those it is intended to serve.

The starting point of the project is an awareness that provision for vulnerable court users is currently limited and, moreover, that there are aspects of the court process that can exacerbate or even create vulnerability. As a consequence, many court users are unable to engage effectively with the court proceedings that concern them.

The project encompasses criminal, family and civil law and has a number of components:

  • An international policy review examining approaches to tackling vulnerability in a range of jurisdictions around the world
  • A review of policy on court user vulnerability in England and Wales, to include consideration of how this policy has evolved, as well as competing definitions of vulnerability and related concepts in policy
  • An empirical study of practice in England and Wales, which will explore the extent, nature and implications of vulnerability among court users, the ways in which existing policy on vulnerability is put into practice, and gaps and shortcomings in existing policy and its implementation.


  • Professor Penny Cooper
    Birkbeck University
  • Dr Jessica Jacobson
    Birkbeck College London
  • Gillian Hunter
    Birkbeck College London
  • Amy Kirby
    Birkbeck College London

  • Ash Patel
    Programme Head, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.