Book Reviews

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6478.00171
Publication Date01 December 2000
Book Reviews
PATHS TO JUSTICE: WHAT PEOPLE DO AND THINK ABOUT GOING
TO LAW by HAZEL GENN with NATIONAL CENTRE FOR SOCIAL
RESEARCH
(Oxford and Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing, 1999, xvi and 382 pp.,
£17.00)
THE COMMUNITY LEGAL SERVICE: ACCESS FOR ALL?
(London: Consumers’ Association, 2000, 92 pp., out of print. Executive
Summary available)
Genn’s book, to which most of this review is devoted, is a large-scale,
mainly quantitative, study of the incidence of justiciable problems amongst
the public at large, and how they are dealt with. The Consumers’
Association report is a qualitative study of members of four groups seen
as particularly vulnerable; interviewees were pursuing a civil legal or social
welfare issue through the legal system. Genn’s message is that it is
important to focus on the different problems which people have rather than
on the different people who have them; the Consumers’ Association
emphasizes that ‘while vulnerable consumers do indeed face common
barriers in the legal system, many barriers are specific to their unique
circumstances’ (Executive Summary, p. 3). Nevertheless they complement
each other usefully.
Genn’s book has a title and sub-title which are puzzling in themselves, but
also do not reflect its main concerns. Is law justice? Is ‘going to law’
following a ‘path to justice’? It is hard not to ask these questions at a time
when the Access to Justice Act 1999 has affirmed a clear disjunction
between ‘justice’ and the outcome of formal legal proceedings, even if it has
not substituted any clear alternative conception. But the title also sells the
fine research reported on here short; it actually has few preconceptions about
the place of law and legal institutions in the behaviour it describes. While
there is a chapter on attitudes to courts, judges, and lawyers, ‘going to law’ is
just one of the possible steps, and not a particularly central one, in the
public’s attempts to solve its problems. Nor is the public presented as
seeking ‘justice’; more often than not they are not even seeking their ‘legal
rights’. After the event they are asked about the ‘fairness’ of the resolution
that was achieved.
This is a book which takes off from the ‘legal needs’ tradition. As Genn
points out (pp. 5 ff.), research in this tradition has long since moved on from
an assumption that the use of lawyers is central to access to justice, and that
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