It is often astounding to see how the importance of legal literacy and its benefit to grassroots is overlooked in society. A recent finding revealed that only half of the law schools in the United Kingdom have delivered some form of legal literacy in communities over the last ten years. As law centres in some parts of the country continue to close, the underprivileged will bear the brunt of this. The perception that legal knowledge is the preserve of the privileged few continues.
Most people will agree that a lack of legal awareness prevents people living on the fringes of society from gaining access to much needed legal advice and this can diminish their confidence when dealing with issues of a legal nature. According to Legal Action Group (LAG), research shows that over a third of people in the UK experience some sort of civil law problem over a three and a half year period and very few of those go on to seek legal help because of lack of awareness.
The implications for this trend are huge. Lack of knowledge particularly for disadvantaged people, can perpetuate social deprivation and exclusion which leads to vulnerable people being caught up in a vicious cycle.
There is a need to improve the quality and quantity of public legal education particularly at a time when cuts are being made to the legal aid budget. Basic legal education that informs people of their obligations and rights should be an integral part of legal services.
Inadequate legal literacy programs particularly in a developed country, goes against the idea of well informed participatory democracy. A lack of legal literacy programs can not promote community participation, empowerment and foster a human rights culture particularly for those at the grass roots.
As Italian Jurist Mauro Cappelletti once said “effective access to justice can be seen as the most basic requirement, the most basic human right of a system which purports to guarantee legal rights”.