What is public legal education?
Learning, rights, empowerment and community
PLE focuses on the early stages of a problem and sets out to help people avoid law-related problems, act more quickly when problems do occur and deal with issues more effectively including knowing when and where to get expert help.
'PLE provides people with awareness, knowledge and understanding of rights and legal issues, together with the confidence and skills they need to deal with disputes and gain access to justice. Equally important, it helps people recognise when they may need support, what sort of advice is available, and how to go about getting it.
'PLE has a further key role in helping citizens to better understand everyday life issues, making better decisions and anticipating and avoiding problems'.
PLEAS Task Force definition of public legal education July 2007
PLE covers a wide range of activities aimed at increasing legal capability. It can be a citizenship class in a school, a theatre group, a website, a step by step guide, a leaflet or a campaign.
Better knowledge of rights and legal issues empowers individuals and communities enabling them to take more control over their lives and participate in the democratic process and get involved in shaping the decisions that affect them.
PLE complements legal and advice services and has links to both education and community development.
Why is PLE important
'Economists estimate that over a three to four year period unresolved problems cost the nation £13 billion.
'Helping people to avoid problems or solve them earlier avoids expense, stress and disruption and creates knock-on savings for the justice system and society as a whole.
'PLE can help people to understand and analyse the rules and systems they live with, and so be involved in the decisions that affect them'.
Extracts from Plenet's leaflet on public legal education
Over half of the UK population is unaware of their legal rights or the processes by which they are enforced1. This indicates that there is a serious gap in people’s knowledge about how society works and about their role within in. Lack of legal capability alienates people and creates a barrier to effective communication and participation in civil society.
PLE helps people to solve everyday problems such as debt, benefits, consumer rights, discrimination, housing, employment problems and divorce. These issues have a massive impact on people’s lives.
Research shows that many people worry about their problems most of the time, not knowing what to do or where to go for help. Many people do nothing and things get even worse.
Often, the people who are hardest hit are those who already experience some disadvantage, for example disabled people, people with literacy problems, the homeless and older people.
By building skills and confidence PLE can help people access services, get better homes and jobs and believe in themselves and their future.
Looking to the future
Over the last few years there has been growing recognition of PLE and its potential to improve the lives of individuals and communities. In 2011, a new independent education charity was set up. The new charity, Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education incorporates Plenet – the Public Legal Education Network. Law for Life is committed to furthering Plenet’s aim to raise awareness, build legal capability and improve expertise in the delivery of PLE.
An appeal to support Law for Life was launched in January 2011. More information is here.
1Knowledge, capability and experience of rights problems (810 KB) Research conducted by the Legal Services Research Centre and published in May 2010.
PLE Improving lives, empowering communities
In 2009, Plenet published a short leaflet about public legal education explaining how it works and the benefits of PLE. It also has a handy Q&A page.
If you would like to order free copies, please get in touch using the comment form below. Please give your name and full postal address and say how many copies you would like.