Measuring young people’s legal capability

In 2008, the Public Legal Education Network commissioned Independent Academic Research Studies (IARS) to carry out an exploratory study on young people's legal capability. The study published in 2009 signifies an important new approach to looking at the need for and delivery of public legal education.

The research aimed to get a better understanding of the components of legal capability to help develop a conceptual model that could provide the basis for a future baseline survey of the levels and types of legal capability in the wider population. The study considered young peoples' knowledge, skill and attitudes to legal problems.

Download the report: Measuring Young People's Legal Capability (1.1 MB)

These are some of the key findings:

  • Participants had little or no knowledge of most basic rights and entitlements; in particular they seemed unaware of any system of civil law to which they had recourse.
  • Young people's lack of knowledge of their rights/entitlements, legal processes or where to go for help impeded their ability to recognise that they were dealing with an issue with legal elements. This in turn affected their ability to plan how to resolve the problem.
  • If participants did seek information and/or help, it was either in the form of information available at the point of sale in shops, for example, or by speaking to family members or friends. There was little knowledge of existing structures for advice.
  • Many of participants lacked sound verbal communication skills, which seriously affected their ability to resolve law-related problems.
  • Young people's preferred source of help and advice was often affected by attitudes. For example, many had a negative attitude towards professionals. Action was also affected by what was at stake and the emotional impact of the problem on the young person. The most marginalised young people reported feeling lost and helpless.

The paper made several recommendations for policy makers and PLE practitioners.

  • The lack of awareness of civil legal entitlements, the role of the justice system and legal processes, suggest the need to strengthen and expand provision of law-related education for young people.
  • The importance of getting help from people young people know and trust, and in a familiar place preferably used by young people.
  • The need to develop activities to improve young people's communication and planning skills through training and support.
  • Public legal education practitioners should consider the need to provide intermediary PLE training to improve the capacity of trusted intermediaries to reach young people.

The paper also made several recommendations for further research.