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Public Legal Education

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 21 June 2018

I have launched a new public legal education panel formed of leading organisations that promote the importance of teaching people about the law and their basic civil and criminal rights. As part of that, I am able to work closely with those involved in PLE, supporting initiatives to increase its profile and to reach more members of the public.

I thank the Solicitor General for that answer, but what more can be done to inspire young people in Willenhall, Bloxwich and Walsall North to pursue a career in the legal profession?

I commend my hon. Friend for his interest in this subject and his passion for spreading opportunity in his constituency. My advice to him and to legal practitioners in the Walsall and Bloxwich area is that they should get into and work with our schools and take part in “lawyers in schools” sessions, which not only help to deliver PLE, but inspire young people into a future legal career.

I agree with the Solicitor General that public legal education is important, so how would he explain to the public what has gone wrong with prosecution disclosure? Who is responsible?

The hon. Lady makes a pertinent point. She will know that the Attorney General and I launched a review late last year ahead of some of the latest stories that have hit the headlines about the importance of disclosure. It has been a long-term issue, involving both the CPS and, notably, the police, but we are working closely to update and revise the guidelines to tackle the issues with which she and I are very familiar.

In Scotland, public legal education begins at school, because human rights are part of the curriculum for excellence, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights recently heard evidence that that is part of the reason for Scotland’s more positive public discourse about human rights. Has the Solicitor General had any discussions with his counterparts in the Department for Education about emulating Scotland’s education example south of the border?

Once again, I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for raising an interesting dimension. I have not had those conversations, but I certainly want to. The curriculum in England and Wales—England in particular—already includes citizenship, of which PLE can be a part, but I will take on board her observations. I am grateful.

Public legal education is important for confidence in our criminal justice system, but failures in disclosure clearly undermine that confidence. Of the 3,637 cases that have been reviewed, disclosure concerns have been found in 47. How confident is the Solicitor General that there are not disclosure concerns in tens of further cases?

With respect, work has already exposed several deficiencies, but it would be an idle claim for me to suggest that that would be the sum total of it, because we are looking at a particular type of offence. My Department and the Attorney General’s Office have been ahead of the curve on this, and it has been our priority for some time to tackle what I and the Attorney General understand from our days at the criminal Bar as a long-term issue.

The Solicitor General talks about being ahead of the curve but, of course, there were warnings about disclosure two years ago. In July 2017, the “Making it Fair” report by the CPS inspectorate and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary found that police scheduling was “routinely poor” and that there were failures to manage ongoing disclosure. Although I appreciate that action is being taken, is it not time that action was absolutely urgent?

We do appreciate the urgency, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to that important inspectorate report. I remind him that the Attorney General and I asked the inspectorates to undertake that work, which has allowed a clear evidential basis for action to be taken now. It is urgent and we are getting on with it.