CIVIL LITIGATORS AND THE SECRET BARRISTER 5: PUBLIC LEGAL EDUCATION: IT MAY NOT BE A BOON, HOWEVER IT IS PROBABLY A MUST
There is a mug, available online, which reads “Don’t you mistake your Google search for my law degree”. I am sure that many lawyers have been tempted to purchase a set. The Google search may not be helpful, however a structured approach to public legal education may be. At the very least to stop the “misinformation” that prevails in relation to many aspects of the legal system, including civil procedure. This is the fifth look at the Secret Barrister’s book I want to consider part of the book entitled “My closing speech”. The part entitled “public legal education”.
“… public legal education in our country has historically been appalling. Upon arriving at university as a law undergraduate in the early 2000s, I knew nothing about the justice system other than what I had erroneously gleaned from American TV… I am not alone. A distressing number of my educated, professional friends genuinely understand my day to involve strutting around a courtroom barking “objection” while spinning deliberate lies to a jury as judge in full-bottomed wig twirls his gavel”.
SB points out that this is changing, with Citizenship classes teaching the fundamentals of law and the operation of the justice system. There are numerous charities working with schools to bring practitioners into the classroom and encouraging critical thinking about the law.
Political and media accuracy
In 2016 an All Parliamentary Group on Public Legal Education was founded. However SB points out that MPs are often the worst offenders in relation to the misunderstanding and misapprehensions in relation to the law.
“Why should someone take the time to acquaint themselves with the principles of a legal system which, their representative assures them in the newspapers is so clearly an ass?”
(This is an appropriate point to remind readers that The Criminal Bar Association have set up a fund to create a fighting fund for criminal justice. The first aim was to send a copy of SB’s book to every MP. This has been achieved, however the fight goes on. You can donate here. )
Newspapers “whose grasp of the law – from the nuance through to the basic facts – appears looser every day.”
“Against this background, the decline of public misunderstanding becomes clearer: if the law is inaccessible, and you depend for your information on unreliable sources, confusion and disengagement are unavoidable.”
And us Civil Litigators?
It is strange that there are numerous professors for the public understanding of science. I cannot find anything comparable in relation to the public understanding of law. We know that law is “complicated” but there again so is science. This is an issue that we should consider more. An educated public with some accurate knowledge of the basic principles of law, and how the legal system operates, may not make our job easier, however it may make for much more civil society.