Scots consumer champion backs calls to educate school pupils on legal & consumer rights. CONSUMER FOCUS SCOTLAND have added their full support to a Holyrood petition launched by a Perth based law reform campaigner, calling for Scots secondary school pupils to be taught about the Scots justice system, their legal & consumer rights as has been the case in schools throughout the rest of the UK for some years. In England & Wales, schoolchildren have for some time, received “Citizenship Education” as a compulsory course, which covers similar issues contained in the petition such as democracy & justice, along with civil rights & responsibilities.
Petition 1354 calls for the education of justice, legal & consumer rights to Scots children. With secondary school children in England & Wales already ahead of their Scots counterparts in receiving education of legal & consumer rights, Mr MacKenzie’s petition to Holyrood 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”.
Consumer Focus Scotland & other agencies have been quick to support the idea of bringing the issues contained in the petition into focus at the Scottish Parliament for action. The full list of submissions received by the Scottish Parliament regarding Petition 1354 can be found here : Written submissions for Petition 1354
The submission from Consumer Focus Scotland (pdf) states : “The issues raised in the petition are crucial. Young people make decisions and take actions that have a legal consequence on a daily basis. Even simple, everyday activities, such as buying something in a shop, are interactions that bring them in contact with the civil law. As young people near adulthood, these interactions become increasingly complex; they take out contracts for mobile phones, they have one (or several) part-time jobs, they leave home and take out a tenancy agreement. We are increasingly concerned that young people, and consumers in general, are unaware of many of the consequences of their actions, and have a lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities. We believe helping people to become more assertive, confident citizens who know their rights (and responsibilities) will also encourage businesses and employers to improve standards. We therefore support the intention behind this petition.”
Asking why is knowledge of rights, responsibilities and means of redress so important, Consumer Focus Scotland states : “Approximately a quarter of the Scottish population has suffered from an everyday problem that they found difficult to resolve, that had a possible remedy in civil law. We believe that equipping all consumers with appropriate knowledge, skills and confidence will enable them to better make active, informed decisions which have legal consequences. Providing such tools can help them to avoid problems by making better choices, but also help to ensure that if problems do arise, that they have sufficient knowledge of their rights, responsibilities and means of redress to allow them to take appropriate action at the appropriate time.”
“Evidence from Paths to Justice Scotland (which reported the findings of a large-scale survey of consumers’ experiences of a wide range of everyday problems) suggests, however, that a widespread lack of knowledge amongst most social groups means that these stages are very difficult for consumers to navigate. In particular, there was some suggestion that people in Scotland may have more difficulty identifying when they have a problem than their counterparts in England and Wales. A clear message to come from the survey was the need for much greater knowledge on rights, remedies and procedures for resolving disputes.”
Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill recommended public legal education be developed in Scotland. Consumer Focus Scotland continued on the theme of legal education : “We believe the evidence illustrates an urgent need for more investment to improve consumers’ knowledge of their rights, remedies and means of redress in order to ensure they can anticipate and avoid problems, or seek help at an early stage to resolve them should they arise. Ensuring early resolution of disputes has the potential to save money and reduce stress, as well as preventing or minimising the wider social impacts of these problems. Consumer Focus Scotland firmly believes that a public legal education strategy is required to address this problem and is crucial to improving access to justice for consumers. Public legal education is a tool to improve consumers’ knowledge of their rights, remedies and means of redress, but also to build their skills and confidence to be able to act upon this knowledge. Building consumers’ ‘legal capability’ will equip them to better cope with law-related issues. Lord Gill’s recent Civil Courts Review recommended that public legal education form an aspect of any access to justice strategy taken forward.”
The submission from Consumer Focus Scotland then went onto debate what the particular challenges facing young people in law-related situations are : “As consumers in their own right, young people require to have sufficient knowledge, skills and confidence to make informed, responsible decisions. As highlighted in the petition, however, there is evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) about the level and types of problems experienced by young people who visited citizens’ advice bureaux.6 We would emphasise of course, that this provides information only on those people who accessed advice from a bureau. As outlined above, many people are unaware that they have a problem or that there are agencies such as CABx that are there to help them, and we would therefore expect the situation to be even worse than that reported by CAS. Indeed, there is evidence from England and Wales that each year 16-24 year olds will experience 2.3 million rights-related problems which will require them to seek advice.”
“Consumer Focus Scotland believes that citizenship education in schools has a key role to play in building such ‘foundation level’ legal capability amongst young people. The petition suggests that citizenship education become a ‘compulsory’ element of the school curriculum as in England and Wales. We support the flexible and personalised approach taken to the curriculum as introduced by Curriculum for Excellence. Nevertheless we firmly believe that there is a critical need for much more to be done to build young people’s legal capability to ensure they are able to make active, informed decisions as they move through life. We believe that using citizenship to build ‘foundation level’ legal capability would contribute towards the achievement of the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence, particularly ‘confident individuals’ and ‘responsible citizens.”
Referring to the Scottish Government’s plans for the Curriculum for Excellence, Consumer Focus Scotland concluded its letter to Holryood’s Petitions Committee, stating : “The ‘Responsibilities for All’ theme of Curriculum for Excellence identifies key areas where all staff have a responsibility to develop, reinforce and extend learning. We are pleased that money issues, including debt, are included within the ‘numeracy across learning’ strand of Responsibilities for All. We believe there is potential to extend consideration of money and debt issues to include elements of legal capability such as agencies that can help. We do, however, believe that citizenship, and particularly issues of that relating to civil justice.”
Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence should include education of civil justice, rights & responsibilities, says Consumer Focus Scotland.“We are concerned that the focus of law related work on rights and responsibilities has the potential to relate principally to matters of criminal law. However, young people come into contact with the civil law in a variety of ways, and will be beginning to make decisions where it is critical that they understand the consequences of their actions. and legal capability, play such a fundamental role in developing the four capacities identified by Curriculum for Excellence that citizenship should be formally considered for inclusion as a ‘Responsibility for All’. We believe this could better integrate such issues, including consideration of civil justice structures, rights, responsibilities, and means of redress, across the curriculum with focused outcomes which would not only include issues of knowledge, but of skills, confidence and exploration of attitudes. We believe this is the best way to ensure that all young people are given sufficient opportunity to build the necessary legal capability to make informed, effective decisions”
More detail regarding Petition 1354 and its aims can be found in my earlier report in September, here : Holyrood Petition launched to promote education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scots secondary school curriculum.
Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review recommended that public legal education form an aspect of any access to justice strategy taken forward. My earlier coverage of the Civil Courts Review can be found here : Civil Courts Review – The story so far