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27 September, 2004

Call for a national strategy for public legal education

The Citizenship Foundation, together with the Advice Services Alliance and the Legal Action Group, is calling for a national strategy for public legal education.

In a discussion document launched today, the three organisations claim that a co-ordinated approach to public education on legal issues is urgently needed to increase people’s legal knowledge, give them information about the options for resolving disputes, and help them become more confident and effective citizens.

Feedback on the paper is requested from organisations and individuals with an interest in this issue. (See bottom of page.)

The paper addresses:

- WHY public legal education is so important,

- WHAT the functions are of legal education and information,

- HOW public legal education should be provided,

- WHAT would be necessary for a national strategy for public legal education.

Recent research shows that nothing is done to solve one in five civil law problems; in a third of these cases, no action is taken because the person does not understand their legal rights or know how to go about getting help. The survey estimates that around a million problems go unresolved every year. Thirty per cent of those experiencing civil legal problems attempt to resolve them themselves.

The three organisations believe that equipping people with information about the law is in the public interest: it gives them the knowledge and skills they need to manage their affairs and allows them to avoid unnecessary legal disputes - and to comply with their obligations as citizens. Involvement in public legal education projects can also benefit legal professionals, as it gives them skills in presenting legal information in an accessible manner.

The discussion paper argues public legal education should be seen as a priority across government, as part of an integrated approach to public legal services. For it to have the focus it deserves, there must be a single body with responsibility for championing this issue and promoting its development.

Martin Jones, project director of ASA's Advicenow Project, says:

“We need to see fundamental changes in the way the public learn about their individual rights, to bridge the knowledge gap that is so evident when it comes to basic legal issues. There are far too many cases where basic legal knowledge could prevent heartache. Put simply, we believe prevention is better than cure.

“We welcome feedback from organisations or individuals who have interests in these important issues.”

Nony Ardill, Legal Action Group’s policy director, says:

“We believe that people have the right to know how the law affects their lives, but all too often they are left guessing - or rely on myths and misunderstandings about the law and legal processes. Public legal education is not an alternative to effective legal advice and representation - but it could help people know when they need to seek advice. There is urgent need for a national strategy to take this forward.”

Tony Breslin, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation, says:

“Clearly an understanding of the law and legal system underpins the successful functioning of our democracy. Everyone is entitled to have the opportunity to learn about systems and processes that have an impact on their daily lives. For this reason, law is a key part of the new Citizenship curriculum in schools but there is a much wider audience that needs to access their entitlement to Public Legal Education.”

Responses to this paper should be made to nardill@lag.org.uk by 17th December 2004.


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