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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Public legal education panel to help teach people about rights

Public legal education panel to help teach people about rights


Mock trials and role plays to bring law to the people in drive to equip litigants in person with legal skills

The Attorney General has launched a new Public Legal Education panel to ‘support and drive forward legal education initiatives’.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP, who will chair the panel, said: ‘Teaching people about their legal rights and responsibilities, together with helping them gain the confidence and skills to get access to justice can really make a difference to people’s lives – as well as our legal system.’

Buckland, who was once a regular contributor to Solicitors Journal, added that the new panel would ‘help drive forward Public Legal Education so more people can reap the benefits’.

Public legal education (PLE) is increasingly regarded as an essential enabling component for consumers in the drive to maintain access to justice following cuts to legal aid and court closures.

With the number of litigants in person on the rise, both the government and advice professionals on the ground see PLE as one way of raising awareness of legal rights and giving people the confidence to enforce theirs.

‘As legal aid cuts continue to force people to deal with their legal problems without representation, ensuring litigants in person have the knowledge and skills they need is increasingly vital,’ Mary Marvel, head of policy and communications at Advicenow, wrote in Solicitors Journal last week.

PLE started getting traction when cuts to legal aid came in under the last Labour government in 2009, when Lord Bach was minister for legal aid.

The concept was picked up by the Bach Commission, the Labour peer’s working group tasked by party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to review the legal aid system. The commission’s interim report published in November last year (2016) listed it as one of its key recommendations.

The PLE panel will bring together key representatives from the Citizenship Foundation, Legal Education Foundation, The Law Society, Bar Council, CILEX, Magistrates’ Association, Ministry of Justice, Judicial Office, Solicitors Regulation Authority, Citizens Advice, Law for Life, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, Youth Access, and Law Centres Federation.

It will consider initiatives such as interactive presentations, mock trials and role play exercises to awareness raising campaigns or information in leaflets. These could be tailored to different groups, from educating primary and secondary school pupils to prison inmates, community groups and homeless people.

There is undoubtedly some merit in coordinating PLE initiatives, but observers will wonder what the panel will be able to achieve that its individual members haven’t already in their respective areas. Especially as it is expected to meet just twice a year.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal after the group’s initial meeting, the Solicitor General said the panel would meet virtually in-between meetings and share information online.

“I was struck by the fact that many leading groups in this area hadn’t met before", he said, “so it’s a significant step forward in bringing things together.”

Buckland also clarified that the panel will not distribute any funding. “Lots of excellent organisations are already getting funding, including some from government,” he said, “so this isn’t another pot of money to create a new system”. Instead, the purpose of the new body would be to identify needs, assess the work already being done, and consider how needs that were not met could be addressed.

One of the group's tasks would be to look at how PLE could be provided, from sessions in schools to online education. “It’s about educating the young about being good citizens, as well as supporting people involved in legal issues such as a dispute with a credit card company.”

Panel members will now look at specific goals to be achieved in the next ten years. Once the main objectives have been identified, sub-groups will take them forward individually.

Jean-Yves Gilg, editor-in-chief | @jeanyvesgilg