Legal capability is an essential element for active citizenship. Public Legal Education (PLE) helps young citizens develop the ability to recognise when they might be faced with a legal problem or challenge. It then helps them develop their knowledge – such as how the legal justice system works; skills – such as being aware of what to do when faced with legal issues; and confidence – to make use of the legal justice system to protect rights.
Current changes to the legal system make the need for PLE especially crucial at this time.
The restrictions to legal aid, the massive increase in litigants in person, and the digitisation of the courts system all mean that in future there will be an increasing onus on individuals to navigate the legal system on their own. Without the necessary knowledge, skills and confidence to do so effectively, people will be denied access to justice.
The Citizenship Foundation has developed a ‘Legal Capability Framework’, setting out the competences which young people need to possess in order to be able to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens. We are beginning to use this framework to measure the impact of our interventions – through means of a questionnaire before and after interventions.
PLE also plays a significant role in improving social mobility, by helping break down the barriers to the legal profession. There are many ‘alumni’ from the Young Citizens PLE programmes who have gone into a career in the legal justice system as a result of their contact with lawyers and others.
Young Citizens is calling for:
- Government to provide support to intermediary organisations, in order that they can in turn support schools. This would include the National Justice Museum, the Association of Citizenship Teaching, and ourselves. This would help those schools which do not have the budget to pay for high quality citizenship resources for PLE.
- There should be clear lines of responsibility within Government for PLE – which we believe should ultimately sit with the Ministry of Justice, with support from the Department for Education and the Attorney General’s Office. This would avoid the current situation where PLE falls between different government departments, and so there is no clear lead.
- The legal profession should continue, and grow, its support for PLE – with funding and pro bono support for intermediary bodies – and a wider range of options for support for different types of legal firms.
- Multi-academy trusts, which in many cases now provide the support to schools which used to be provided by local authorities, should engage with PLE and help to support their schools in its provision.
- Agreed collective goals for PLE operatives should be put in place, along the lines of those already drafted, led by Government, and be responsive to the changing needs of the public, to ensure the rule of law upheld. This would help identify gaps in provision and avoid duplication between organisations.