News concerning the first year of the project activities. MAPPING ANALYSIS CONCLUDED

Nov 2, 2022 | News

The overall purpose of the Project is to explore the desirable degree of legal literacy in several European states (Croatia, France, Italy and Portugal). It has two fundamental aims. On the one hand, the intention is to develop a competencies framework for final year students in elementary and high schools. The framework should define the level of legal literacy that should be achieved by those groups of students. As this is impossible without adequate teaching, the second goal of the Project is to help prepare those expected to teach legal literacy. This includes the training of the faculty, as well as the development of teaching materials.

Legal literacy proves to be an important element of active citizenship and necessary prerequisite of a viable functioning of the rule of law. Moreover, evidence from countries included in the project demonstrate the following:

  • „both overall legal system and central state institution face a very high mistrust rate. Thus 90,3% of population does not trust Croatian Parliament, 82,5% government and 82,5% judicial system.“[1] In addition „Within the 2019 school curricula there are few topics that might be considered to form a part of a basic legal literacy (rule of law, elections and electoral procedure, human rights, organization of state and local government, etc.). The main shortcoming is (…) that these are part of a transversal educational topic „Civic education“ whose actual teaching in the classroom depends on the readiness (and preparedness) of individual teachers to connect transversal topics with their compulsory course topics.“[2]
  • In France, “according to a CSA poll carried out in 2014, more than three quarters of French citizens (77%) think that the justice system works ‘badly’. (…) Nine out of ten French people believe that it is difficult for a citizen to understand how justice works.”[3]

However, “civic, legal and social education is now an established component of the education followed by all students in the high school (lycée). It takes its place in a ‘civic pathway’ of citizenship training, which begins in primary school and is further developed in secondary school. In last years of high school, Law is taught either as an optional subject in the general baccalaureate or as a compulsory subject in the STMG (Sciences & Technologies of Management) technical baccalaureate. (…) Law is taught as a moral and civic education subject by History and Geography teachers.”[4]

  • In Italy, “there has been a drastic reduction in the number of law subjects in schools, then there was the reintroduction of the subject ‘civic education’ which could have been a great opportunity for law teachers, but it is a transversal subject and all teachers can teach it. It is necessary to increase the hours of law and economics and include them in all high schools.”[5]
  • In Portugal “according to a study developed by a Portuguese lawyers’ firm, Abreu Advogados, Portuguese citizens have a low level of legal literacy. This study highlights that citizens still need to have the lawyer figure in an office, so that they can be guided in the legal aspects of their lives. One of the main motives for this low level of legal literacy is the fact that the Portuguese legal system has always been slow and does not immediately answer citizens’ needs. In addition, young people usually do not have a direct contact with legal concepts and situations, as this is only taught in the 12th grade (17/18-year-old students) as an optional discipline in the Humanities and Languages course.”[6]

The very concept of legal literacy requires deeper understanding. Its theoretical explication transcends the scope of this project and, consequently, of this report. Nevertheless, the research team has looked into the issue and took as a starting point the following premises:

  • A programme of legal literacy should not reduce the teaching of elementary knowledge of the law to learning legal norms by heart. Firstly, if this is done the effort to introduce legal literacy will be turned into yet another opportunity to practice memorising the study material. By consequence, both students and teachers will only superficially delve into the underlying problems of the law and will develop a superficial understanding of the topic at best. Furthermore, such an approach would not convey a key specificity of the law to the faculty and the students. This specificity is not the language used to write and speak the law. The law’s language on a fundamental level reflects the everyday language and cannot simply be reduced to a professionals’ idiom.[7] What makes the law specific is the “invisible discourse” that it depends on, that is, “the expectations that do not find explicit expression anywhere but are part of the legal culture”.[8] The functioning of the legal language is possible because its participants are cognizant of these expectations and act accordingly. An elementary programme of legal literacy should introduce both faculty and the students to such expectations, their challenges and how one may overcome these challenges.
  • Having this omnipresence of the law in mind, legal literacy may be defined as “that degree of competence in legal discourse required for meaningful and active life”.[9] The legal literacy it defines does not mean that we can recite some of the rules we call “the law”, but that we can find our way in the legal dimensions of societal relations. If we are literate in law, we should be able to identify the legal dimension of our interaction with others, not merely in political or other public controversies. Furthermore, legal literacy should empower us to “read” these legal aspects of our interactions on some elementary level. Finally, we should be able to find our way within the law that regulates our behaviour. A layperson should not be expected to be as knowledgeable as an attorney, but any citizen should have an elementary comprehension of the law and be able to acknowledge when they need legal aid and where to look for it.

Building on both premises and given that the meaning of the law is so complex, specific qualities of legality within individual jurisdictions had to be researched. Therefore, the Project deployed a research method that will adapt the competencies framework and relevant teaching materials to the needs of citizens in different European jurisdictions. This concept is localised by way of focus groups, including both teachers and students, and deploying a carefully tailored questionnaire to legal practitioners who have expertise with children or teenagers.

The Synthesis Report was finalized and it contains a comparative analysis of four national reports. Each of national reports, prepared as working papers, contains data and results of applied methodology in a specific country (outcomes of working groups/qualitative research and results of legal questionnaire/quantitative research in Croatia, France, Italy and Portugal). The findings contained in the Synthesis Report will provide a basis for developing materials for teaching an elementary level of legal literacy, i.e., a fundamental basis for competence framework development.

[1] Forum za slobodu odgoja (Mario Bajkuša), National report – Crotia, p. 5.

[2] Ibid., p. 3.

[3] Pistes Solidaires (Soha El Jammal, Anita Pépicq), National report – France,pp. 15-16.

[4] Ibid., pp. 12 and 14.

[5] Centro per lo Sviluppo Creativo ‘Danilo Dolci’ (Irene Ippolito), National report – Italy, p. 10.

[6] INOVA+ (Maria Rodrigues, Mariana Carola); Agrupamento de Escolas de Vilela (António Baptista, Joaquim Rodrigues, Sérgio Oliveira), National report – Portugal, p. 10.

[7] Visković, Nikola (1989) Jezik prava. Naprijed: Zagreb, p. 25.

[8] White, James Boyd, The Invisible Discourse of the Law: Reflections on Legal Literacy and General Education, University of Colorado Law Review, Vol 54, No 2, pp 143-159, p. 146.

[9] Ibid., p. 144.