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3 June, 2005

Public Legal Education urgent need for a co-ordinated approach

The Advice Services Alliance (ASA), Citizenship Foundation (CF) and the Legal Action Group (LAG) have today delivered to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs a letter calling on the government to recognise the value of public legal education (PLE) and to take steps to develop a coherent national stragegy – actively promoting collaboration across Whitehall as well as with the voluntary and private sector.

ASA, CF and LAG believe that action is needed to increase public knowledge and understanding of the law and rights, to allow people to become more effective citizens and give them the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to manage the problems they face in the course of their lives. This approach was strongly supported by responses to a consultation paper published by last September. The three organisations are proposing:

• An independent steering group to guide the development of a national strategy, chaired by a senior figure from a non-governmental background

• Group members to include representatives from all relevant government departments, but with a majority drawn from outside government

• Government funding to support the work of the group

Commenting on the proposals, Tony Breslin, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation said:

Clearly an understanding of the law and legal system underpins the successful functioning of our democracy. Learning about the law is already a key part of the Citizenship curriculum in schools but there is a much wider audience that needs to be reached.

Martin Jones, project director, ASA’s Advicenow Project, said:

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 legal issues.

Nony Ardill, policy director, Legal Action Group said:

We were encouraged by the level of interest in public legal education shown in the responses to our discussion paper. The challenge now is to harness this interest and to persuade the government that the idea of a national strategy has legs.

These proposals are set out in a position paper drawing on the responses to a consultation document launched last September. Also published today is a summary of these responses, most of which warmly welcomed the consultation and the chance to participate in this debate.

For a copy of the position paper, the summary of responses and the initial consultation paper, please contact Nony Ardill (nardill@lag.org.uk; 020 7833 7435).

To find out more please email:

Notes for editors:

1. Interviews are available with Martin Jones; Nony Ardill; Tony Breslin, or Dan Mace (Deputy Chair, Citizenship Foundation);

Contact: Rebecca Irani, PR officer, Citizenship Foundation

rebecca.irani@citizenshipfoundation.org.uk Tel: 020 7367 0500

2. ASA, CF and LAG have also developed a working definition of PLE as:

’… combining the supply of appropriate information with the process of developing the attitudes, knowledge, understanding and skills necessary to make informed personal decisions in circumstances affected by our individual and collective legal rights and responsibilities.’

3. The initial consultation paper, Towards a national strategy for public legal education (September 2004), argued that a co-ordinated approach to public legal education was urgently needed to address the current and historic piecemeal and variable approach and to provide for the future the knowledge and skills necessary to enable people to understand their legal rights and responsibilities, to appreciate the different approaches to resolving disputes and to play an increasingly confident and effective role as citizens.

4. Since this initial consultation paper was published there have been a number of government and other policy initiatives that have some relevance to PLE. The following were taken into account when putting together the proposal, which were all released or established at or towards the end of 2004:

• Sir David Clementi’s report on the regulatory review of legal services

• The DCA’s five-year strategy: ’Delivering Justice, Rights and Democracy.’

• The Civil Justice Council’s Public Legal Education Working Group report,and

• The Office of Fair Trading’s ‘Consumer education: a strategy and framework’.

About the Citizenship Foundation

The Citizenship Foundation is an independent charity (no. 801360) which aims to empower individuals to engage in the wider community through education about the law, democracy and society. Founded in 1989, we focus particularly on developing young people’s citizenship skills, knowledge and understanding. Our work includes: a comprehensive range of citizenship resources for a wide audience from teachers to young offenders; nationwide and international training programmes; national active learning projects for secondary schools; community projects to develop citizenship education as a collective responsibility; research to advance our understanding of best practice in citizenship education.


About the Advice Services Alliance (ASA)

The ASA is the umbrella organization for independent advice services in the UK. Its aims are to:

• champion the development of high quality information, advice and legal services;

• ensure that people are not denied access to such services on account of lack of means, discrimination or other disadvantage;

• encourage co-operation between organizations providing such services;

• provide a forum for the discussion of issues of common interest or concern to advice organizations.


About the Legal Action Group (LAG)

The Legal Action Group (LAG) is an independent national charity committed to improving access to justice, particularly for the vulnerable and socially excluded. Through its publications and training, LAG works with lawyers and advisers to improve standards and knowledge of social welfare and criminal law. It also comments and campaigns extensively on social welfare and criminal law issues, on administration of justice and on the delivery of publicly funded legal services. www.lag.org.uk

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