How PLEI will change the world

May 16, 2007

It’s fun and productive to focus exclusively on PLEI and the major impacts it can have. But PLEI is not going to save the world all by itself. PLEI must ultimately be integrated into a broader access to justice framework if it’s going to have a lasting and effective impact.

Many legal needs assessment recognize this—and legal needs reports from Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere are fantastic places for finding calls for more and better PLEI. Often, however, PLEI will only get mentioned is in a single recommendation among dozens. It is rare for a legal needs report to identify PLEI as a major area for attention. It’s rarer still for a needs report to single out PLEI as a giant missing piece that has been grievously neglected in favor of more and more case-by-case advice and direct representation.

A recent legal needs report from the UK is an exception. In Causes of Action: Civil Law and Social Justice [1.4 MB PDF], Pascoe Pleasence and his co-authors point emphatically to PLEI as an access to justice component that deserves substantial development.

I am tempted to reproduce the entire multi-page PLEI recommendation from the book. Instead, though, I will excerpt these highlights:

Our findings confirm the diversity of people’s responses to justiciable problems, and illustrate how people sometimes take no action at all to resolve apparently serious problems . . . . and the most common reason for this is a belief that nothing could be done. . . . Coupled with our findings that indicate people’s choices of advisers can be desperate and unpromising, it is clear that the continuing development of education and information strategies regarding rights, obligations, the basic principles and sources of advice, and methods for resolving justiciable problems has an important role to play in promoting social justice. . . . As [Roderick] Macdonald has indicated, basic methods of increasing awareness, such as distributing information through pamphlets, videotapes, and radio-spots “can be very effective,” and targeted distribution of information is also possible through services that routinely engage with the public . . . However, . . . such methods will need to overcome the often inaccurate impression regarding rights and process that people receive “through the haphazard and selective reports of journalists, whose primary interest is in selling newspapers, and via televised representations of legal proceedings in which the principal objective is entertainment.”

Evidently, raising awareness of rights, responsibilities and options to enforce them is not all that is required to enable people to take effective action to resolve justiciable problems. . . . [I]ndividuals must have a broader “capability” to act to resolve problems than simple understanding provides. They must, for example, be able to recognise problems, recognise when advice and assistance is necessary, and communicate effectively, whether in taking action on their own behalf, obtaining advice, or instructing others to act for them. Information and education are therefore necessary to enable people to take effective action to resolve problems, but not always sufficient. . . . Thus . . . information and education should not be regarded as cheap alternatives to advice and assistance.

Furthermore, . . . people facing certain types of problems may require not just advice and representation, but also broader support if they are to be able to act effectively. This may require effective co-ordination of advice and non-advice services.

The entire needs report (which the Legal Services Research Centre has published as a book) ought to be required reading for anyone involved in PLEI policy. I know that some of my readers will be promptly pointing me to similar passages from U.S. and Canadian needs assessments, and I welcome those comments.


One Response to “How PLEI will change the world”

  1. Pat Pitsula Says:

    Hi Ritchie,

    A quick note before the long week-end – I have nothing substantive to add on recent blogs except to say that I hope some one is taking notes on all the variety of topics that the PLEI Network in BC could pursue! I appeciated learning more about just how active law libraries are being across Canada in terms of incorporating PLE. When I organized a human rights education symposium earlier this year, I was gratified at the quick reply of the executive director of the Vancouver Public Library confirming attendance.

    I also believe that the topic of the relationship between for profit PLE and not for profit PLE has much promise. If we accept the premise that funders’ scarce dollars and organization’s scarce resources should focus on PLE which encourages access to justice for the most disenfranchised in society, it leaves room to identify those PLE topics which may be better suited for publications which have a modest fee e.g. condominium law, wills and estates law, etc. In any event, the idea of having the truly comprehensive PLE inventory in a jurisdiction (for profit and not for profit PLE materials) likely makes sense from the vantage point of the individual Canadian citizen.


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