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Promoting legal capability in the UK

Press release issued: 18 January 2012

A new framework, produced by the Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) at the University of Bristol and Law for Life, aims to improve public legal education so that more people are aware of their legal rights when faced with law-related issues in everyday life, such as consumer complaints, discrimination at work or debt problems.

The idea of using public legal education (PLE) to help people recognise and deal effectively with these types of issues is a relatively new field in the UK, but one that is gaining ground in the face of radical changes to legal aid. 

To move policy and practice forward in this important area, the PFRC and Law for Life: The Foundation for Public Legal Education have produced a PLE Evaluation Framework aimed at organisations that deliver PLE. Funded by the Ministry of Justice, the Framework promotes robust evaluations of PLE, so that over time we can develop a better understanding of what works and why.   It offers practitioners and evaluators a set of evaluation goals, measures and research methods to assess the impact of PLE, and also considers the particular challenges of evaluating PLE projects and programmes.  For example, the subjects covered by PLE can be very varied and the activities used to deliver PLE diverse, from a leaflet, to a theatre production, or a mentoring scheme.   The Framework is accompanied by practical guidance on evaluating PLE. 

The framework also sets out, for the first time, a comprehensive vision of what it means to be legally capable in today’s world.  This builds on seminal work carried out by the PFRC for the Financial Services Authority to conceptualise and measure financial capability in the UK population.  Informed by the research evidence and input from international PLE experts, the four domains of legal capability have been identified as:

· Recognising and framing the legal dimensions of issues and situations

· Finding out more about the legal dimensions of issues and situations

· Dealing with law-related issues and situations

· Engaging and influencing the world in which we live, by understanding the relationships between the law in our everyday lives and wider social issues and democratic processes.

Martin Jones, Director of Law for Life, said:  “What does a legally capable person need to know and be able to do in order to navigate the hazards of modern life?  The evaluation framework takes a big step towards answering this question by setting out and detailing the four domains of legal capability.   It will help us set more precise targets for public legal education, and provides the means of evaluating whether we have achieved them.”

Sharon Collard, Director of the Personal Finance Research Centre, said: “We are really pleased to have been able to apply our learning from the field of financial capability to the legal aspects of people’s everyday lives, which so often involve money and personal finance.”

Ab Currie, Principal Researcher at The Department of Justice Canada, and a member of the project steering group, commented: “Experiencing legal problems is a very frequently occurring aspect of everyday life and, moreover, experiencing clusters of multiple problems is especially prevalent among disadvantaged groups. The concept of legal capability represents an important step forward in helping the public deal with this reality. Developing legal capability among the population will give people the knowledge and skills to assist them in self-managing problems and participating in the resolution of the legal problems that arise in their daily lives.”’

The PLE Evaluation Framework was authored by Sharon Collard and Dr Chris Deeming of the Personal Finance Research Centre, and Lisa Wintersteiger, Martin Jones and John Seargeant of Law for Life: The Foundation for Public Legal Education.  The Guidance for Evaluating PLE was compiled by David Hayes and Dr Chris Deeming of the Personal Finance Research Centre. 

Law for Life: The Foundation for Public Legal Education was established in summer 2011, having evolved from the Public Legal Education Network (Plenet). It is dedicated to promoting and developing public legal education in the UK.  Further information about its work is available here.

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