Brexit presents a challenge for public legal education
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Brexit continues to catch the headlines. In parallel, the debate continues about whether the public grasps the key legal principles involved. This was the focus of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Public Legal Education meeting that took place at the House of Commons on 27 March, chaired by Tom Tugendhat MP.
Brexit affects fundamental rights but the APPG felt that the public rarely engages with issues involved in our system of rights. Leaders of national campaigns spoke of a pressing need for better engagement and information strategies. RightsInfo chief executive Julia Kirby-Smith explained how the organisation’s digital media space for human rights plays a vital role by featuring award-winning infographics, stories, videos and explainers. Lisa Wintersteiger, chief executive of Law for Life, said a key step is for the government to play an effective role in increasing public awareness. She emphasised the importance of targeting known figures whom the public trust, including teachers, religious leaders and significant others. They then convey the right messages to communities.
Colin Yeo, the Garden Court Chambers immigration barrister who edits the Free Movement blog, spoke of the difficulty UK residents from the EU experience even now in defining their legal status. Free Movement developed free eBook application guides for EU citizens, though shifts in interpretation of the law mean advice does change. During questions, Tugendhat said he has reassured UK-based constituents from across the EU that those with legal status to be in this country will surely keep it, though British law, European law and Brexit outcomes will all play their part in defining what that status might be over time.
Ruth Dwight, programme director (corporate partnerships) at the Citizenship Foundation, and Luke Robins-Grace, public affairs and communications adviser at the Bar Council, described their organisations’ citizenship lesson resources. Three packs have been developed for schools covering the right of citizens to bring challenges, the difference between parliamentary sovereignty and the royal prerogative, and the role of the judiciary in holding a government to account.
Two students from St Alban’s RC High School in Pontypool caught the mood of the meeting in stressing the importance of understanding the legal principles around Brexit. The Citizenship Foundation packs had helped to do this properly. Deputy head Dan Foster added that when there is a lot of poor information around, everyone needs resources they can trust. When used in lessons, ‘the resources became a real eye-opener’. Dwight, meanwhile, emphasised the importance of helping teachers to do more on democracy and the law, saying it can’t be ‘learned by osmosis’.

About the author(s)

Peter Hay is a freelance consultant.