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New publication – Reimagining Administrative Justice: Human Rights in Small Places (Doyle & O’Brien, 2019)

‘Grenfell, Windrush, Hillsborough – these and other tragedies bring into sharp focus the necessary partnership of social rights and the actions of the state.’ 


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Reimagining Administrative Justice: Human rights in small places reconnects everyday justice with social rights. It rediscovers human rights in the ‘small places’ of housing, education, health and social care, where administrative justice touches the citizen every day, and in doing so it reimagines administrative justice and expands its democratic reach. The institutions of everyday justice – ombuds, tribunals and mediation – rarely herald their role in human rights frameworks, and never very loudly. For the most part, human rights and administrative justice are ships that pass in the night.


At the heart of the book’s argument is the proposition that, in the case of both human rights and administrative justice, design features shaped by essentially legalistic values of ‘individual user’, ‘system’ and ‘closure’ have obscured their shared roots in democratic value and impaired their democratic potential. Drawing on design theory and the wider design culture, the book proposes to remedy this alienation by replacing current orthodoxies, such as ‘user focus’, with more promising design principles of community, network and openness. Thus reimagined, the future of both administrative justice and social rights is demosprudential, firmly rooted in making response to citizen grievance more democratic and embedding legal change in the broader culture. It is in the design of the public realm, in urban planning and housing development that the values that can shape a reinvigorated democracy become most clearly visible and in which the possibilities for aligning administrative justice and human rights emerge most clearly.


A central tenet is that, as UKAJI has proposed in its Research Roadmap (2018), administrative justice should be seen not as a fourth neglected strand of the justice system but as an overarching set of principles and values governing individuals’ interactions with the state, with equality at its core.


The book focuses its reimagining lens on the ombud, with its distinctive techniques and character, as the central institution of administrative justice reimagined. It considers how the ombud, for example in Latin America and southern Europe but also in Britain, has already, in sometimes surprisingly similar ways, extended its reach to make effective its own democratic engagement with social rights and the task of humanising the state bureaucracy. The focus widens to consider the implications of the values of community, network and openness for other parts of the administrative justice fabric, notably mediation, tribunals and public inquiries. The themes of looking and listening are integral to the practices of the institutions of administrative justice when they are reimagined as demosprudential, with a focus on recognition rather than resolution, and as parts of an interlocking network sustained by participative processes.


The concluding chapter, recognising the unavoidably political context of administrative justice and human rights, touches upon ideas of radical democracy, political friendship and social innovation as a means of threading the ombud as the paradigm of administrative justice to other pieces of the administrative justice fabric. In that way, administrative justice reimagined becomes an essential component of human rights promotion and protection, and of the democratic state founded on the principle of equality.


The book can be found on the publisher’s website here.


Margaret Doyle is a Visiting Research Fellow with the UK Administrative Justice Institute at the University of Essex. She has been an independent SEND mediator with KIDS SEND Mediation Service since 2003. She is also a member of the Academic Panel of the Administrative Justice Council. She can be reached on mdoyle@essex.ac.uk.

Nick O’Brien is the winner of the Bernard Crick Prize 2019 for the Best Piece in Political Quarterly of 2018. His article entitled ‘Administrative Justice in the Wake of I, Daniel Blake’ can be found open-access here. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool.

About UK Administrative Justice Institute

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we link research, practice & policy on administrative justice in the UK



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