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Legal Needs, Legal Capability and the Role of Public Education

By: Lisa Wintersteiger, Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education

The following report analyses the findings of the 2010 and 2012 UK Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey alongside some of the underlying policy contexts for public legal education and information (PLEI) developments. The findings reveal on-going significant gaps in legal knowledge and capability amongst the UK population, creating substantial barriers to access to justice and undermining the rule of law.

The unevenly distributed profiles of legal capability in the population correlate with other aspects of personal capability, and compound underlying disadvantage. The research confirms that the way in which people come to understand the law and legal processes is framed by pre-existing beliefs and attitudes and by their social and familial settings. Confidence or lack of it impacts on their ability to act effectively and navigate day-to-day legal encounters.

Perhaps most pressingly, the findings confirm the need to recognise the lack of reach of traditional legal services into the lives of people who experience common and sometimes complex legal issues, their reticence to seek legal advice and the concomitant need to reshape justice policies to be more responsive and proactive in providing multidimensional forms of assistance in a timely and targeted way.

To this extent justice policy lags far behind advances in financial, health and consumer education that have promoted positive teaching methodologies that are more dynamic and engaging, involving innovative on and offline environments with integrated, concrete, practical help to allow individuals to see the real-life value of education and information.