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Public Legal Education

Volume 633: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017

In July I launched a public legal education panel to support and drive forward legal education initiatives. Bringing together key organisations will mean a more joined-up approach to PLE, and will ensure that more people can reap the benefits of the good work that is being done. The panel is currently combining its resources to map the provision of, and need for, PLE around the country.

Does the Solicitor General agree that there is a particular need to enhance understanding of the law relating to social media? What is being done to enhance that understanding, especially among young people?

I know from my hon. Friend’s professional career in this field that he knows more about it than many other Members. He will be glad to know that, through programmes such as the Lawyers in Schools initiative, young people are being taught about the do’s and don’ts of social media because of the growing problem of offences being perpetrated through it. I have seen that great work at first hand on many occasions.

One third of the population experience civil justice cases, and nearly two thirds are unaware of basic legal rights and concepts. Minor legal challenges are commonplace, but, owing to a gap in public knowledge, many cases go unchallenged. What specific steps is the Crown Prosecution Service taking to reach the “harder to reach”—vulnerable people with physical and mental issues, and also the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to scams?

As the hon. Lady says, there is a wide range of people with vulnerabilities. I am glad to say that the CPS is doing some excellent work, especially in the field of hate crime. The packs that it produces for schools in particular, dealing with disability, race, religion and LGBT issues, are being downloaded and used by schools in regions throughout the country, including the hon. Lady’s region. They are designed to teach students about the nature, effects and consequences of this type of crime, and have a strong anti-bullying focus which encourages young people to become active citizens.

I welcome the work that my hon. and learned Friend has done on public legal education. I also welcome the work done by Citizens Advice in such places as Edenbridge in Kent. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree, however, that the spread of contract law through every clickable website and every app that is downloaded means that the emphasis must now be on legal education throughout people’s lives, not just in schools but through general services as well?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who, in the last Parliament, chaired the very first all-party parliamentary group on public legal education. He shares my passionate desire to enable young people in particular to understand that when they buy a mobile phone they sign a contract, and thus enter into legal obligations at a very early age. It is our duty to try to educate, encourage and support them in order to prevent some of the legal problems that they might encounter.

As the Solicitor General knows, this is one area in which ignorance is not bliss. So many of our constituents all over the country suddenly have to know something about the law for a short period of their lives, but the level of knowledge is very poor indeed. Could not our further education colleges provide some help?

I can see a role for local practitioners. Lawyers could work with FE colleges as they currently do with many schools. What the hon. Gentleman has described is what I call “just in time” public legal education, which helps people with immediate crises. I am also interested in what I call “just in case” PLE, which is all about early intervention and prevention, but he is absolutely right to identify those issues.

May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members and staff a very happy Christmas?

Public legal education is also important in giving victims the confidence to come forward. This week the Attorney General published data on the use of complainants’ sexual history in the most serious sex trials. He also announced the provision of training. When will that training be available?

May I add my compliments of the season to those of the hon. Gentleman?

The training is available now, and is ongoing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the current structure of the law has been in existence for the best part of 20 years, and in my own professional experience it is used rigorously. It must be used rigorously, so that future complainants and victims of this appalling crime can be confident, first, that inappropriate questions will not be asked, and secondly, that they will not be ambushed in court in an inappropriate way.

The data collection exercise has been necessary because we do not systematically collect data in every case. Could we consider doing that, and also recording the reasons why judges grant such applications or not, as the case may be? Would that not increase confidence in the process?

I can confirm that that data will be collected. This issue came to my attention when both the Attorney General and I wanted a widespread number of cases to be examined. It will be done in a more thorough way so that we have up to date and accurate data on this important issue.