Law for Life’s position on…..

Public legal education (PLE) and the legal profession

Many people lack effective knowledge of their legal rights, with only 11% able to accurately characterise a problem as legal. This creates huge barriers for individuals, but also poses significant problems for the legal profession, as people end up trying to manage their problems alone; our research shows only 6% use a lawyer. Coupled with evidence suggesting low levels of trust in law professionals and the justice system, there is a clear and compelling case for building people’s confidence when considering legal help.

Greater public knowledge and understanding also has a role to play in the ongoing debate around regulation and transparency in the legal profession. Legal education can empower consumers in the same way public health education has in recent decades, but we are starting from a long way behind, and everyone – legal professionals, the advice sector and wider intermediaries – has a role to play in addressing the knowledge deficit.

Public legal education (PLE) and legal aid

As legal aid and advice services continue to be subjected to significant cuts, more people are forced to fend for themselves in seeking access to justice. These cuts are particularly worrying given the general public’s lack of understanding about the law and its bearing on their lives; only 11% of people are able to accurately recognise their problems as legal.

Although Law for Life recognises that qualified legal professionals are an important source of support for law-related issues, and for those already involved in court cases, the cuts mean that many can’t access this support. Law for Life’s resources help people fill gaps in their legal knowledge, confidence, and skills where no other support is available. Public legal education is also a vital tool in legal ‘triage’ and early signposting, to prevent legal problems from escalating.

Online courts and the civil courts reform

As part of the government’s intention to ‘modernise the delivery of justice’ and streamline the courts system, there are plans to develop an ‘online court’ dealing with civil justice issues.

We welcome the involvement of litigants in person in the design and development of this new system, and see some positive potential in the government’s plans to reduce unnecessary litigation. But these changes must be supported by improvements in public legal education, if we are to preserve and improve access to justice.

Some people find themselves in court because they were unable to tackle their problems earlier on and stop the situation from spiralling. Improved public legal education can help prevent things progressing to that point. However, in many cases court is inevitable, and with cuts to legal aid, the reality is that even more people will have to enter the system without legal support. In those situations, the general public’s current lack of legal understanding, confidence and skills represents a huge potential barrier to access for justice.

We are concerned that HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the Ministry of Justice underestimate the current gap in understanding and the task involved in developing and sharing the legal information and education necessary to make online justice a success for all involved. We hope that the government considers the needs of a range of different groups when designing and piloting the new systems, to ensure that they adequately serve every member of society, particularly those who experience most difficulty in accessing justice, such as those who are ‘digitally excluded’, have low literacy levels, or for whom English is a second language.

Law for Life is currently working with other organisations as part of the government’s Litigant in Person Support Strategy, which aims to ensure those representing themselves in court experience better support in their journey through the system, as it stands, and as it develops.

Law for Life and Advicenow

Advicenow is one of a range of services provided by Law for Life to help build people’s knowledge, confidence and capability in dealing with law-related issues. The award-winning Advicenow website brings together the best information on rights and the law, selected and quality-checked by experts, and a host of in-depth guides, produced by Law for Life, offering practical help in managing and resolving legal problems without the support of a lawyer or adviser.

The information found on Advicenow is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Rather, it offers people crucial help in understanding how the law relates to their lives, and their rights and options when dealing with legal situations. Law for Life recommends that, wherever possible, people seek legal or specialist advice on how to deal with their specific case, and guides them towards such help.

Access to justice and the Sustainable Development Goals

Law for Life welcomes the inclusion of justice for the first time in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 16 reflects a growing recognition of the vital role access to justice plays in the international development agenda, and Law for Life is working closely with many organisations in the field, including Namati, the Open Society Foundations and the British Council.

 

Published: 2 November 2016

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