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Public Understanding of the Law

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

I chair the public legal education committee, and I regularly engage with stakeholders and other Government Departments on public legal education to explore how we can increase public understanding of the law. Valuable work is ongoing in this area. During Justice Week, for example, the “big legal lesson” will be delivered in schools around the country on 24 February 2020. I will also attend an MP drop-in session in Portcullis House on 26 February—you will be very welcome, Mr Speaker—to raise awareness of the justice system. I urge all colleagues to pop by.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee)

We are seeing more and more litigants-in-person due to the Government’s legal aid cuts, and many people never pursue their rights to see their children or to make financial claims because they do not know how. What will Ministers do to help people access justice, which is their right?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

It is right that public legal education provides people with vital awareness, which is what it does. People need knowledge and understanding of their rights and responsibilities, but it is wrong to say it is a quid pro quo with legal aid. It acts as an adjunct to legal aid, and individuals face difficult challenges and sometimes require additional help. The pro bono work we see in the public legal education carried out by the legal and the third sectors helps to make a real difference. I have visited a number of locations, including the pro bono unit at the University of Leicester just last week, and they are helping people. This is a valuable exercise.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Understanding of the law is vital for the rule of law, but as the president of the Law Society reminded us this week, in the light of the deportation rulings, so, too, is judicial review. So why does No. 10 keep attacking judges, instead of law-breaking Ministers? Is judicial review not all the more important because although Parliament might not be “dead”, as the former Attorney General described it, it is utterly supine on providing checks on ministerial powers?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Solicitor-General

I do not think Parliament is supine in any context. The reality of the matter is that public legal education provides valuable insight and awareness to young people, in particular, about rights and responsibilities. I do not recognise the characteristic the hon. Gentleman puts on the issue.