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Holyrood Petition launched to promote education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scots secondary school curriculum

03 Sep

Debating chamberScottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to consider education of legal & consumer rights in schools. A PUBLIC PETITION promoting education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scotland’s secondary schools has been lodged at the Scottish Parliament by Perth based law reform campaigner Mr Stewart MacKenzie, whose successful McKenzie Friends Petition 1247 brought forward the system of lay assistance used in courts around the world since 1970 to our very own Scots legal system this year after a year long campaign at Holyrood, which I reported on in more detail HERE.

Petition PE 1354 introducing Justice Legal & Consumer Rights Education into Scottish secondary school curriculum Petition 1354 calls for the education of justice, legal & consumer rights to Scots children. With children in England & Wales already ahead of their Scots counterparts in receiving education of legal & consumer rights, Mr MacKenzie’s petition calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce ‘citizenship’ as a compulsory element of the secondary school curriculum and which covers knowledge and an understanding of consumers’ rights, the roles, duties and responsibilities of the legal profession and the different courts systems in relation to civil justice and also human rights legislation”.

Mr MacKenzie commented further in his petition on the apparent lack of will in the current Scottish Government’s education plans to follow the English education system in teaching legal & consumer rights to secondary school pupils, saying : “I have contacted the Learning Directorate, Curriculum Division, of the Scottish Government and received the details of what is currently provided in the Scottish education system. They have confirmed that although the matter of citizenship ‘may’ be touched upon in secondary schools, it is not a compulsory element of the Scottish curriculum and, if it is covered by individual schools, it is very basic and does not cover the topics recommended by the petitioner.”

Mr MacKenzie continued : “All Scottish school pupils, within their secondary education, would greatly benefit from, for example, knowledge and an understanding of consumers’ rights, the role, duties and responsibilities of the legal profession in Scotland, the purpose and role of the different courts systems in relation to civil justice in Scotland and also human rights legislation, all of which would install this much needed knowledge and give confidence to young people, so that they are ready to face issues which they will incur in everyday life after leaving school and avoid many of the pitfalls of modern, everyday life.”

“In the English education system a learning course covering these issues has been statutory since 2002. The ‘citizenship’ element of the National Curriculum in England gives teaching and learning of the key areas which the petitioner describes but which are lacking in the Scottish education system and whilst within the Scottish education system citizenship is covered to a very limited degree, it is not a compulsory element of the curriculum and does not cover the areas which are described in this petition and which Citizens Advice Scotland describes as being desperately needed by all Scottish secondary school leavers.”

In England & Wales, schoolchildren have for some time, received “Citizenship Education” as a compulsory course, which covers issues such as democracy & justice, & rights & responsibilities, described on the TeacherNet website as follows :

Democracy and justice — This focuses on the role that citizens can take within the political and justice systems in the UK. It includes: freedom as part of a democracy; fairness and the rule of law as part of justice; power and authority; and accountability. Pupils learn that accountability happens at many levels ranging from a responsible opposition in parliament challenging, testing and scrutinising what Government is doing, to citizens in local communities challenging decisions that affect them.

Rights and responsibilities — There are different kinds of rights, obligations and responsibilities — political, legal, human, social, civic and moral. Pupils explore contested areas surrounding rights and responsibilities, for the checks and balances needed in relation to freedom of speech in the context of threats from extremism and terrorism.

ScottishGovernmentThe Scottish Government introduced the recent Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, although omitted legal & consumer rights. The Scottish Government’s recent “Curriculum for Excellence”, more about which can be viewed at the Engage for Education website apparently does not include anywhere near the same level of education on justice, legal & consumer affairs for Scots schoolchildren, leaving the feeling Scots kids are being left in the dark while their English counterparts receive a much wider, more responsible view of the world around them.

The move by legal campaigner Mr MacKenzie to ensure Scots secondary school pupils receive equivalent or even better education on legal & consumer affairs, which already received by pupils in England & Wales, is backed by consumer organisations such as Which?, and Consumer Focus Scotland who have long held views on the subject of a public legal education strategy, featured in their recent report : Making Civil Justice Work for Consumers

Consumer Focus Scotland - A Public Legal Education StrategyConsumer Focus Scotland also advocate a public legal education strategy. Consumer Focus Scotland said in their report “If consumers are to be able to access legal services, and make informed choices about which services best meet their needs, they need to be able to a) recognise they have a problem, b) recognise the problem has a potential legal remedy, & c) identify a course of action to pursue that remedy, be it taking action themselves, or seeking help from an appropriate source” – issues which could be greatly helped by a compulsory course in Scottish schools for pupils on justice, legal & consumer rights subjects.

The Consumer Focus Scotland report went onto state : “In other jurisdictions, public legal education (PLE) is seen as an important tool to help consumers navigate these stages. It is a tool not only to improve consumers’ knowledge of their rights, remedies and means of redress, but also to build their skills and confidence so that they possess sufficient ‘legal capability’ to act upon this knowledge. This could be about giving them the knowledge and confidence to reach the appropriate adviser at the appropriate time to help them resolve their problem(s), or it could be equipping them with the necessary skills to take action themselves.”

The report goes onto state Consumer Focus Scotland “believe the development of a Scotland-wide public legal education strategy to be fundamental to efforts to improve access to justice for consumers.”

Sarah O’Neill, Head of Policy for Consumer Focus Scotland commented on the moves at Holyrood saying : “While we have not seen the detail of the petition, and cannot comment on this at this stage, we would be supportive in principle of any initiative to include coverage of some of these issues in the school curriculum.”

Ms Neil continued : “We have long been supportive of the concept of public legal education, and have a particular interest in looking at ways of developing people’s legal capability, by increasing their skills and confidence, allowing them to recognise when they have a legal problem, any legal rights they may have in relation to that problem, and identifying a course of action to resolve that problem. This is set out in more detail in our recent publication making Civil Justice Work for Consumers.”

Educating our children on issues of justice, legal & consumer rights is obviously an essential part of growing up, and since the rest of the UK has long recognised this, it is surely time for Scotland to follow suit. After all, we have regular announcements of Scottish Government Ministers attempting to cut crime & break the cycle of crime many people find themselves trapped in by providing offenders with more of the skills they need to live positive lives, so why not go a step further and teach Scots schoolchildren about justice, the legal system & consumer rights at school level .. it may do a lot more good for our nation’s future ….

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