Access to justice research over two decades has documented the health-harming effects of unmet legal needs. There is growing evidence of bidirectional links between law and health demonstrating that social and economic problems with a legal dimension can exacerbate or create ill health and, conversely that ill-health can create legal problems. Independently, social epidemiological research documents gross and widening inequalities in health, largely explained by social determinants such as income, housing, employment, and education. Although legal issues are embedded in most social determinants of health, law has been largely invisible in social determinants discourse, research and interventions.
This article argues that legal services have an important role to play in mitigating many of the socio-economic determinants that disproportionately impact the health of low income and vulnerable groups. It describes the international practitioner-led movement of Health Justice Partnership through which lawyers work with healthcare teams to address the root causes of ill health rather than focusing on physical and psychological manifestations of negative social determinants.
Finally, the article attempts to delineate the evolving field of health justice, advancing a transdisciplinary research agenda that could strengthen both public health and access to justice research by moving beyond the limitations of single discipline approaches. Noting the vigorous policy emphasis in law and health on prevention and partnership to address the twin challenges of access to justice and health inequalities, the article ends with a plea for policy coordination that acknowledges shared responsibility across government for improving the health of the public.
Hazel Genn, When Law is Good for Your Health: Mitigating the social determinants of health through access to justice, Current Legal Problems, https://doi.org/10.1093/clp/cuz003. Published: 24 June 2019.