60 second interview with Lord Bach
Lord Bach, Chair of the Ministry of Justice’s PLE Strategy Group delivering his keynote speech at Plenet's legal empowerment conference in February 2010.
Lord Bach was appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice in October 2008 having previously served as a Minister in the Whips' office, the former Lord Chancellor's Department, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Prior to joining the government, he served as a barrister, having been called to the bar in 1972.
What's your involvement with PLE?
As the Minister responsible for Legal Aid, I have a keen interest in PLE and the positive impacts it can achieve. I am Chair of the Ministry of Justice’s PLE Strategy Group which seeks to provide coordination and strategic leadership in the field of PLE, and I am a strong supporter of Plenet. On the civil side of things, I am determined that we get the most we possibly can from legal aid as it is civil law which can have a major impact on people’s lives. Issues such as debt, housing and employment can be difficult for any of us to manage but can be particularly so for the most vulnerable in society. In order to achieve the most from our civil legal aid we need to ensure that citizens are enabled and empowered to take control of their legal problems and that is why PLE is so important.
What's your favourite example of PLE?
There has been a huge amount of good work done in the field of PLE over the past few years and I regularly get to see so many excellent examples of it, that it is difficult to choose a favourite. I’m constantly impressed by the services I see being delivered across the country. A recent example was Preston Citizens Advice Bureau which is responding directly to specific local issues with the delivery of specialist money advice appointments and skills training workshops to help budget for the future and to prevent homelessness.
The MOJ has itself done some work in this area, and more is planned. The development of the Your Justice Your World website which is now in use in schools across England and Wales was led by the MOJ. This provides a platform from which we can help the internet generation to understand the justice system through the medium most familiar to them, laying the foundations for their future as citizens getting access to the justice system as and when they need to.
Why do you think PLE works?
If people are given the right tools – the knowledge and skills – to take control of their own situation then this leads to a range of other positive outcomes. Not only do legal problems get resolved before they spiral out of control but empowered citizens promote a healthy democracy, one inhabited by people who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to participate in society and its institutions.
Are there any issues around PLE that you are grappling with?
Advances in technology and a shift in the way people are now accessing information and guidance presents us with a host of new challenges and opportunities. Innovative examples of public service delivery, such as NHS Choices, show us that more can be done in the field of PLE. We have a great opportunity to transform access to justice by giving people new tools and providing information via the channels most relevant to them.
What's your top tip for encouraging PLE to flourish?
Partnership working is absolutely crucial to the success of PLE – working together to make the best use of collective experience, ideas and resources. This is particularly important in the challenging financial climate we operate in. The Ministry of Justice looks forward to working with its partners to demonstrate to others the value of Public Legal Education, through evaluating its impact, expanding its reach to new communities and raising awareness of the need for it amongst those who might not have considered the benefits of Public Legal Education work.