Go back

Put justice at the centre


Make the case to run the AHRC Centre for Law and Justice

To both build on and further innovative scholarship in the field, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has opened a competition to establish a Centre for Law and Social Justice. 

The centre should be designed to fulfil three aims: to deliver “collaborative, interdisciplinary, and challenge-led” research in law and social justice; to champion arts and humanities methods and approaches to legal scholarship; and to develop support for legal scholars at all career stages.

The full economic cost of the centre should be no more than £4,750,000, of which AHRC will fund up to £3,800,000. The funding will cover five years of activity. The deadline for outline applications is 16 January.

At a webinar last month, AHRC staff, executive chair Christopher Smith and senior law academics involved in the creation of the opportunity, gave some pointers to applicant consortia. Here are the main elements.


All bids must present clear plans for leadership, management and partnerships, but the AHRC has kept the organisational structure of the proposed centre largely open to applicants to decide. In response to the question of whether the AHRC envisioned the centre more as a network and would assess bids accordingly, Jaideep Gupte, director of research, strategy and innovation at the AHRC, said: “We’re open to innovative thinking here…The reason why we’ve reflected on a sense of what the centre might look like [in terms of it being network-based] is our recognition that a singular entity might place undue pressure on the host institution given the size, shape and ambition.”

Although a single principal investigator must be named in the application, Smith and Thomas Booker, senior investment manager at the AHRC, said this was due to administrative reasons and should not be taken as meaning that the centre must have a single leader. 

Regarding the centre’s ambition, both Smith and Bethan Rees, investment manager at the AHRC, stressed that wherever the centre is based, it must work across all four nations of the UK.


While the centre will be funded by the AHRC, and the brief says it must “champion arts and humanities methods and approaches to legal scholarship”, the panellists all said it must pursue interdisciplinary work, both in the arts and humanities and outside.

Smith said the centre would need to be animated by “a determination to join parts of the legal community which have thus far been slightly split by the artificiality of divisions which exist within UK Research and Innovation, which are… perhaps obstacles to seeing the rich interconnection of ideas [that can] make sense of what law is in contemporary society”.

Rees added that the centre would constitute “a shared space that cuts across the social sciences and the arts and humanities, and we want to see proposals that reflect this reality”.

The brief provides suggestions of themes the centre could focus on, and all panellists were keen to stress that these are only illustrative and in no way exclusive of themes developed by applicants themselves.

One webinar attendee noted that in the AHRC’s suggested themes, citizens’ rights appeared to be framed in a way that excluded consideration of human rights. In response to this, Ambreena Manji, professor of law at Cardiff University and AHRC governing council member, said assessors would not be against inclusion of human rights as a thematic focus. “It’s for colleagues to suggest to us—if they wish to widen in that way and if they wish for their project to encompass, for example, human rights—to make that case explicitly to us,” Manji said.


Rees stressed that diversity, equity and inclusion issues must be embedded within all the centre’s work. This would be the case “with regard to the focus on social justice but also in the work the centre will do supporting and developing legal scholarship”. 

Similarly, public engagement should not be an add-on. She said: “We see effective public engagement as essential to informing and shaping the research and ensuring that it is likely to deliver benefits to the widest possible group of people.”

Rees added that the AHRC expected to see bids that planned to do “more than just a one-way transmission of findings” and promote an attitude of “research with rather than research on” individuals.

Flexible funding

The AHRC understood that the centre will need to be able to respond to events and opportunities in areas of law and social justice as they arise, Booker said, and had arranged the funding accordingly.

In particular, applicants can allocate up to £500,000 to a ‘flexible funding pot’ to run their own funding opportunities and react to opportunities and needs where appropriate. Applicants would have to give some indication of how this money would be used but, Booker said, “We would expect to see a good proportion of that budget held for those unanticipated opportunities that come up throughout the lifetime of the centre.” 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com