Donnerstag, 3. Januar 2013

Public Legal Education, Legal Literacy and the Capability Approach

Interview with Lisa Wintersteiger,  Director of Policy at Law for Life - The Foundation for Public Legal Education

Law for Life helped initiate a European network in the field of public legal education. This emerging discipline is also called “legal literacy” which points out the importance of legal skills and competences in everyday life.   

How would you define public legal education?

Public legal education describes the range of practices that seek to empower people to deal with the law in their everyday lives. It includes initiatives and activities that build the knowledge, skills and attitudes that people need to cope with common problems that have a legal dimension for example it might be a dispute with their landlord, employment issues or difficulties with a public authority. Public legal education can come in all shapes and sizes –information campaigns harnessing mass media, popular theatre, workshops and DVDs, or classroom learning and much more. 

  1. What are the links between public legal education, education for democratic citizenship and human rights education?
Whilst the focus for public legal education tends to be the most common issues that people encounter in their daily lives - such as civil and social issues, the scope for public legal education also incorporates much wider learning about the links between specific legal rights and obligations and the ways in which they are framed in the context of democratic citizenship. For example, a local group might want to undertake a campaign that includes learning about a particular bit of legislation – such as planning rules, and how to lobby their public officials to influence the law in which the law is working or to change it. Many projects would also consider developing the skills and knowledge needed to make sense of human rights and the ways in which they can be exercised. The key task of effective public legal education is to make sure that it is tailored to the specific legal needs of the audience it is targeting.

  1. In your work, you use the capability approach. What is legal capability?
The capability approach draws on the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum in the field of welfare economics that seeks to situate equalities in the functional capabilities that enable people to secure a range of freedoms and choices. We have adapted the approach in the context of public legal education to focus on legal capability – the things that a person needs to be and do when they encounter law-related issues. It provides a handy conceptual model that we use to think about the things that a particular group needs us to deliver – some groups need to build skills, others need more of a focus on in-depth knowledge about an area of law. The emphasis for us is on the personal attributes that really empower people to both make sense of the law and to feel confident to take the practical steps to realise rights entitlements and gain access to justice.

  1. Where do you see the main benefits of European cooperation in the field of public legal education?
Public legal education encompasses some very diverse fields of practice, and is often integrated into wider services – for example part of an advocacy project or within a wider learning curriculum. European cooperation in the field allows us to really focus on the specific best practices in public legal education that occur across very heterogeneous fields and then to share what works best. Increasingly European citizens and the many other migrants that make up moving populations experience law-related issues that cross borders – like consumer problems or employment issues. We need to build cross-border cooperation to help people access their rights and understand how the law affects them.
  
  1. What needs to be done to make legal literacy a reality in Europe? 
We know there are some very worrying gaps between the legal frameworks that seek to protect legal rights and the realities for those people who need protection. Many people do not know their legal rights and often don’t have the practical skills that are vital to ensure that they can claim entitlements and protection. It isn’t resolved simply by having access to a lawyer either, a lawyer isn’t much good if you don’t identify your problem as a legal one, and you aren’t aware of basic rights that you have. Meaningful access to justice in Europe requires a renewed emphasis and focus on the knowledge and skills that we all need to secure choices and freedoms. That means a diverse and targeted approach to learning opportunities that takes into account life stages - we don’t just need to learn in school!  Partnerships are key; public bodies and civil society groups need to work together to reach those most in need, when it comes to law people need to be able to access independent and high quality sources of learning and information that they can trust.

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