The need for legal education

The Law Society of Scotland is the representative body for solicitors in Scotland. In January, they launched a manifesto ahead of the May 2011 Scottish elections that aims to engage with the political parties before they publish their own manifestos as well as stimulating wider public debate.

The manifesto identifies a range of issues that the Law Society of Scotland believes should be addressed by the next Scottish Parliament. It was compiled not only by members of the legal profession, but also a range of other stakeholders through a series of discussion evenings.

One of the key proposals in the manifesto is that changes should be made to the curriculum in Scottish secondary schools to include a course on law and the legal system, including the provision of a new qualification. This is interesting given that legal education in English schools is a key part of the citizenship curriculum, the statutory status of which is currently under threat.

So why does the Law Society of Scotland think that legal education is so important? It feels that the sheer bulk and complexity of the law puts ordinary citizens at a disadvantage. They say that, ‘Ensuring a sound understanding of the basic principles of law in society would assist every individual in assessing their need for information and guide them to appropriate sources of advice.’

This makes complete sense to me. Many people feel powerless when they are facing a legal problem because they don’t know how to deal with it. Good legal education ensures that people are aware of their rights and obligations, or where to go for advice if they are unsure of what to do. It doesn’t have to be about how a law is passed, more ‘What do I do if I buy something from a shop and it doesn’t work?’ or ‘What action can I take if I am treated badly at work?’

There is already a lot of good legal education going on in Scotland. The Scottish heat of the Bar National Mock Trial Competition is always oversubscribed, with twelve schools participating every year. The Law Society of Scotland provides online information and the Scottish edition of the Young Citizen’s Passport outlines key legal issues, both in a straightforward way.

It will be interesting see what happens to the curriculum in Scotland after the elections, both in terms of responding to the need for cuts and addressing the problem of public legal education.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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