A fully funded PhD position is now available at King’s College London on the project “‘Lost for words’: semantic search in the Find Case Law service of The National Archives”, a Collaborative Doctoral Award received by King’s College London in collaboration with The National Archives and funded by the London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP). This interdisciplinary project is an exciting opportunity to work in natural language processing (particularly computational semantics and information retrieval) applied to legal texts and digital humanities.

About the project

Access to case law is vital for safeguarding the constitutional right of access to justice. It enables members of the public to understand their position when facing litigation and to scrutinise court judgements. Since April 2022, UK court and tribunal decisions are preserved by The National Archives’ Find Case Law service as freely accessible online public records. This project seeks to improve Find Case Law by enhancing it with meaning-sensitive (semantic) search functionality. It will study how individuals without legal training use language to navigate court judgments and it will develop tools to facilitate this navigation. In most digital cultural heritage catalogues, while we can search for words within the metadata describing their records, we cannot search for records based on the meaning of words contained within these records, for example the different words to refer to “knife crime”. Therefore, users’ access to collection is determined by their ability to articulate their information need precisely. Recent advances in natural language processing unlock new possibilities for querying documents via state-of-the-art semantic search. Incorporating such search capabilities in the Find Case Law collection is crucial for democratising access to digital collections, helping expose the social impact of how the law is written.

For queries specific to the project, please contact the project’s lead supervisor Barbara McGillivray  (barbara.mcgillivray@kcl.ac.uk).

Supervisory team

  • Barbara McGillivray (Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London) 
  • Nicki Welch (The National Archives)
  • Rose Rees Jones (The National Archives)
  • Niccolò Ridi (Department of Law, King’s College London)
  • Marton Ribary (Department of Law and Criminology, Royal Holloway University of London)

Skills required


  • Experience with Natural Language Processing research and applied work, including developing new tools. 
  • Interest in working with UK case law for improving access to justice


  • Background in law or legal research.
  • Experience working with digital archives 
  • Knowledge of User experience (UX) research 
  • Knowledge of lexical semantics. 
  • Experience with semantic search. 
  • Experience with NLP applied to legal texts

The application process

Applicants will need to submit an application for a PhD in Digital Humanities at King’s (details here) and an application for the LAHP (details here). Both applications need to be submitted by 27 January 2023 at 5pm.

About Collaborative Doctoral Awards

Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDAs) provide funding for doctoral students to work on a project in collaboration with an organisation outside higher education. They are intended to encourage and develop collaboration and partnerships and to provide opportunities for doctoral students to gain first-hand experience of work outside the university environment. They enhance the employment-related skills and training available to the research student during the course of the award.

The studentship includes a stipend at the Research Council UK Home/ EU rate (£19,668 per annum) plus fees for three and half years. The awarded candidate will also be entitled to a £550 per annum stipend top-up.

LAHP welcomes applications:

  • From ‘home’ and ‘international’ (including EU) applicants who meet the residency requirements as detailed on the UKRI Guidance document on EU and International eligibility
  • From those who have recently completed their Masters’ programmes and those with relevant professional and/or practitioner experience;
  • From those wishing to study on a full-time or part-time basis;
  • From applicants of all ages and backgrounds.

For full details on the LAHP Collaborative Doctoral Awards, please visit https://www.lahp.ac.uk/prospective-students/collaborative-doctoral-awards-projects-available/

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