By Georgie Hufton
This week marks ten years since the Public Legal Education And Support (PLEAS) Task Force released a report, stating the need for a strategy around Public Legal Education (PLE).
A decade later while some efforts have been made, it is clear that the same issues still demand to be addressed. The Citizenship Foundation has made efforts to tackle the issues and continue to clarify misconceptions, especially for young people, about the legal system.
Handling the complexities of daily life requires an effective and accessible legal system, one that ensures citizens understand that the law can not only affect life changing events like family breakdown, but can also help resolve routine issues that occur like returning goods to a shop or finding out your rights at work.
Legal problems can stem from any part of our daily lives, whether it is consumer issues, relationship breakdown, illness, loss of a job, buying or renting property or debt problems. It is common for people to fail to identify how the law can be used to help; instead all too often it is regarded as a hindrance and treated with suspicion.
Much is and already has also changed in the justice system and the world since the PLEAS Task Force Report was released in 2007, making PLE more urgent and necessary than ever before. Over 200,000 children, young people and their families will lose access to justice as a result of the government’s proposed cuts to legal aid.1 These reductions have increased the numbers of plaintiffs in person and the pending reforms to the courts will see many cases being managed online which may create even more disconnect with our decision makers, society and communities. Furthermore, the government’s proposals laid out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, will leave 140,000 children and 69,000 18-24 year olds struggling with serious legal problems related to employment, education, welfare, benefits, homelessness and debt.1
In light of all this change the Citizenship Foundation is creating programmes to educate, inspire, encourage and engage our young citizens, demonstrating that PLE is more important than it has ever been before.
Some of CF’s programmes, such as Lawyers in Schools, coach young citizens with knowledge of their rights and responsibilities. Topics covered include how the law may affect their use of commonly used social media, or when shopping; which laws or rights that may help them resolve an issue as a consumer.
The Citizenship Foundation also produces regular teacher resources on topical and controversial issues, such as Brexit and the recent General Election. The Mock Trials programme helps to challenge young people to think critically, by immersing them in a live action criminal trial in a real court, helping them gain invaluable life skills and knowledge of the law. (More of this work can be seen on the Foundation’s SmartLaw website)
The PLEAS Task Force concluded in 2007 that there was a need for a coherent strategy to address effective PLE. It cited the following barriers:
- PLE lacks a coherent identity
- PLE provision takes place in isolation, and practitioners cannot learn from each other
- PLE funding is short-term and far too limited
- PLE ‘coverage’ is patchy and uneven across goals, issues and users
- Development of good practice in PLE is hampered by the lack of evaluation and quality tools.
Reflecting on the points above today, I recognise there is still much to do to support better PLE. However, the Citizenship Foundation continues to fight for the importance and quality of public legal education within the formal education system, nationally.
Georgie Hufton joined the Citizenship Foundation having graduated with a degree in Criminology and Law from London Metropolitan University in 2016. Her dissertation was used to help develop initiatives for The British Transport Police to tackle unwanted sexual behaviour on transport. Georgie is particularly interested in criminal law in regards to young people from marginalised backgrounds.