What is PLE?
Public Legal Education (PLE) covers a wide range of activities aimed at empowering participants, and increasing their confidence and capability to deal with their law-related problems. From community based courses, theatre performances, step by step guides, awareness-raising campaigns about rights-issues, to law reform campaigns.
Better knowledge of rights and legal issues empowers individuals and communities, enabling them to take more control over their lives, deal with their problems, participate in the democratic process, and get involved in shaping the decisions that affect them.
Public Legal Education has links with community development and education and complements legal and advice services.
Increasing the legal capability of intermediaries, local volunteers or community workers
Law for life has worked with many organisations to provide training for intermediaries, informal advisers, or problem-noticers as to how to help the people they come into contact with deal with common legal problems. Most recently, Law for Life has been commissioned by the TDS Charitable Foundation, to deliver training courses and self-help information for those who work with private tenants about how they can help their clients to understand how to deal with disrepair or a Section 21 eviction notice. Frequently these projects focus on helping people to recognise and tackle problems earlier, before they escalate and spiral, and to develop the skills to stop problems reoccurring.
Interactive drama that increases legal capability
'Flat Broke' is project which uses interactive drama about housing and money issues to develop young people’s capability to deal with their legal problems.
The project combines elements of live theatre with dynamic and interactive discussions and role-play to engage participants in producing a highly effective learning experience. It tries to take away some of the feelings of helplessness, frustration and anger that many young people might feel when faced with a law-related situation, and explores different ways of approaching problems and effective/less effective methods for solving it.
This project is delivered by Theatre ADAD and Law for Life in partnership.
Information that increases legal capability
We see information that empowers individuals to take action as a crucial part of Public Legal Education. This type of information doesn’t just tell people about the law or a few facts about a benefit, it raises awareness of the issues involved, and increases the knowledge, confidence and skills of the user so that they can make informed decisions and take effective action to solve their problem. For examples of what we mean then look no further than our award-winning website Advicenow. All our information not only tells the user what to do, but shows them how to do it, whether it’s a short film or a long step-by-step guide to dealing with your problem without the help of a lawyer or adviser.
"I'm a benefits adviser working for a national disability charity - I can't advise on fraud issues myself. Whenever I get a query about an interview under caution I always signpost to your info on this. I think it is brilliant and so helpful to people. It helps them makes decisions and gives them some confidence."
- Advicenow user
"Very informative and incredibly helpful, and that's just from the introduction on representing myself in court!"
- Advicenow user
Types of PLE
Many PLE projects aim to raise people's awareness of the law and their rights, and how the law can help resolve disputes. Raising awareness is an important first step, and most projects will also provide a guide to action – usually signposting clients to more detailed information or to sources of further help and advice. Awareness-raising campaigns may also be focused on a particular change in the law, such as the government's public awareness campaign on tax self-assessment, or they may be aimed at dealing with common misconceptions. Increased awareness means that: people are better equipped to avoid problems and disputes; and they can take early action to stop a problem escalating into a larger and more serious issue.
Self help and legal capability
A person's ability to deal with law-related problems varies greatly, depending on their own capability and the complexity of the problem. Some people can deal with straightforward problems themselves, particularly in the early stages, if they are given guidance and support. Crucially, people need to be able to recognise when they are out of their depth and when to get expert help. Unfortunately, others find that they can’t afford to get help and representation and so have to deal with things themselves. PLE can help support people in these situations by offering and encouraging knowledge gathering and sharing, and building their skills and confidence so they can manage a situation more effectively.
Community development and law reform
PLE projects help people understand particular laws and legal systems, with a view to mobilising them to press for change. This can mean challenging a decision through the courts in order to improve the way governments or statutory agencies do things in the future. The Public Law Project for example aims to improve individuals’ and organisations’ access to judicial review proceedings. Poor decision making or ineffective or discriminatory rules and processes can then be highlighted, and communities encouraged to challenge bad practice. These projects are a crucial part of a healthy and active democracy that empowers people to actively participate in its legal and political structures.
Why is PLE important?
Almost two-thirds of the UK population are unaware of basic legal rights or the processes by which they are enforced. 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.
‘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.’
By building rights awareness, skills and confidence, public legal education enables people to manage common problems, access services, secure their rights and help them to seek redress when things go wrong.