Law & Social Justice - Research

Ulster University - Belfast

Law & Social Justice - Research


According to the UK’s independent review of research excellence, 46% of the Law unit’s research has been rated as world-leading (REF2021). In REF2021 Law submitted case studies on real-world impact, including work on embedding dignity in the Scottish social security system; and as well as monographs and journals articles, the Law submission included an award-winning film (It Stays With You).

The Head of the Law School is Dr Esther McGuinness; the Research Director is Prof Rory O’Connell.

The School espouses a commitment to socio-legal and multidisciplinary studies as well as supporting doctrinal research.

The School welcomes proposals in the area of Law and Social Justice, especially proposals linked to the Ulster University Law Clinic. Examples of proposals in the area of law and social justice would include Access to justice, including clinical legal education Legal Support, litigants in person, participation; Social Security Law; Citizenship rights; administrative justice and tribunal reform; poverty and destitution; Welfare reform.

Applicants are encouraged to contact potential supervisors in good time to discuss draft research proposals. We have drafted guidance on developing a research proposal which you may find helpful.

We welcome interdisciplinary research proposals and may appoint supervisors from outside the law unit of assessment.


Ulster University Law Clinic

The School of Law is home to the Ulster University Law Clinic ( – an in-house, public facing law clinic staffed by postgraduate students on the LLM Clinical Legal Education under the supervision of Law School staff. The Clinic is led by Dr Grainne McKeever (member of UK Social Security Advisory Committee) and Dr Esther McGuinness. The Ulster University Law Clinic has established an international reputation for its work in the area of access to justice. It has won several national prizes for its innovative approach to research-driven education and pro bono work, providing free legal advice to the public in social security and employment law. In 2014 the Clinic was nominated for a global Innovating Justice award, on the basis of its strong potential to deliver concrete justice results, and the Head of the Law School was awarded a 2014 Fulbright Public Sector Award to develop the Clinic’s innovative model of meeting unmet legal need through innovative graduate legal education.

Clinic staff have secured funding for socio-legal research and have also secured prestigious Department of Justice scholarship funding for the LLM in Clinical Legal Education. Law School and Clinic staff members are especially keen to support research projects in the areas of socio-legal studies, access to justice, social security, employment, and judicial review. The work of the Clinic is underpinned by the research of our PhD researchers working on areas including welfare reform and devolution, children’s rights and special educational needs tribunals, employment law, poverty and the social control of women. Our PhD researchers have published several working papers and peer reviewed publications; secured socio-legal research funding; and won a number of prizes and awards for their work, including the highly prestigious Modern Law Review Scholarship, awarded to Orla Drummond for her research on child participation in special educational needs tribunals.

Clinic staff and researchers have been active in their engagement with policy makers, community groups, pro bono networks and the legal professions, and the work of the Clinic and its staff and students continues to have significant influence on access to justice developments in Northern Ireland and beyond.

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

Application dates

How to Apply

We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.

Get full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application (see "Application Date Weblink").

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system (see "Application Weblink").

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.

Post Course Info

Careers and opportunities

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.

More details
  • Qualification letters


  • Qualifications

    Degree - Doctoral at UK Level 8

  • Attendance type

    Full time,Daytime

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