Young people call for freedom, democracy and knowledge of the law, says new poll

Young people in Britain today fear that democracy and their freedoms are being eroded and call for more knowledge of how the law works, new research from the Bar Council, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and the Law Society of England and Wales revealed today, as they mark the launch of Justice Week (24 to 28 February).

More than 80% of the public have said that understanding how the law works is vital, according to the new poll, and over half of 18 to 24-year-olds would like more emphasis on learning about the law in school.

President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Simon Davis, said: “It is important to educate everyone including young people about how the law works and about their rights. Without that, our very notion of British justice is likely to come under pressure.

“Our survey by Populus, showed that the public appreciate the need to know how the law works, and as part of this we want to enlist the help of schools to further educate children. Very often members of the public struggle even to identify a problem as a legal issue, so are not inclined to seek specialist advice. To help broaden everyone’s knowledge of the law, we are including a drive for teachers to bring teaching of the law more into schools for our special week.”

Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC said: “Law and justice play important roles in the public’s everyday life, from defending democracy, to protecting freedoms and helping to save the planet. As this survey shows, young people clearly have an appetite for greater knowledge about how the law can help everyone play their part in society. Justice Week 2020 is about encouraging that awareness. We are delighted to help ensure that future generations have a strong understanding of the essential part law and justice plays.”

CILEx chair Professor Chris Bones said: “At a time when many people are voicing concerns about how we hold the powerful to account for their actions in a democratic society, it is more important than ever that members of the public understand how the law works to ensure that everyone plays by the rules. Young people in particular want companies, public services and the state to fulfil their obligations, particularly in respect of the climate emergency. If they are to remain confident in democracy as the best way to govern a modern society, then it is important to ensure that they have a good grasp of their rights and how to exercise them.”

The survey – which questioned over 4,000 people – indicates a widespread anxiety about the state of our democracy and freedoms, with 34% of young people expressing concern at having less freedom – a figure that increases to 40% in the 55 to 64 age group.

Respondents said democracy and freedoms are being eroded and put freedom of speech and expression at the top of their list at 57% overall. Freedom of worship, travel freedom, education and healthcare were much lower on the list (16% and below).

Figures show just 18% of young people believe that democracy is getting better. In Wales the feeling was even lower, with only 15% of all those polled agreeing that democracy was getting better.

Protecting the environment was high on the agenda for both young and old right across the country, with nearly half (43%) of those aged between 18 and 24 believing that we are not looking after the environment. Of all those questioned, 82% stressed the need for the law to protect the environment and nearly 90% agreed that we need to protect the environment for future generations.

Faced with a situation where they did not have access to a lawyer, around half of all those quizzed admitted that they would feel uncomfortable getting to grips with the law and legal process in many domestic situations. These could include cases such as contesting a tribunal for unfair dismissal, fighting a landlord over access to heating and water and facing a prosecution for a crime, for which either a custodial sentence or a fine could be imposed.

As justice and the rule of law faces major threats from cuts to spending and attacks on the judiciary, thus undermining our democracy, this year’s Justice Week has set its sights on focusing on Our Justice Team as its theme.

Putting the emphasis on the younger generation, this Justice Week aims to ensure that young people understand the importance of the justice system, value the rule of law and see them as fundamental to our lives and freedoms.

To encourage children to take more interest in the law in schools, teachers are being enlisted, as part of Justice Week activities, to pledge to deliver a legal lesson to as many students in their schools as possible during the course of the week, for its ‘Big Legal Lesson’ session.

Justice Week 2020 is the second Justice Week - the first was November 2018 - and for popular appeal, the visual identity for this week has been modelled on the concept of superheroes, based on the theme that the law is heroic.

An animated video has been produced specially for the week, which is available on YouTube. In vivid imagery, superheroes illustrate the themes of the week, showing the role of the law in key issues such as ‘protecting freedom’, ‘saving the planet’, ‘defending democracy’ and using the law as a tool to defend or save something. (There’s a link here to the animation).

The hot topic of climate change is also among the top themes for the week, with each theme planned for a different day of the week. Friday (28 February) features the opportunity for teachers to take part in the ‘Introduction to the Law’ legal lesson.

For more information and how to register for the free school resource, visit Big Legal Lesson.

See the full list of Justice Week activities

Our Justice TeamNotes to editors

Use our image to promote Justice Week:

Key concerns in the survey included:

  • only a quarter of young people thought that people in Britain were becoming more free and the older generation - aged between 55 and 64 agreed even less with just 17%
  • only 20% of those questioned thought that schools taught how the law works (21% in the 18-24 age group)
  • as many as 84% said that it was very important for ordinary people to understand how the law works, and 88% felt that it was also essential for politicians to understand the workings of the law

In the regions:

  • the importance of the role of law in protecting freedom was also considered as high on the list in the regions, with all groups questioned agreeing that it was important (82%-90%) in regions such as Yorkshire (85%), Midlands (86%), East of England (90%), South West (86%) and Wales (85%)
  • across the board throughout England and Wales, over a third of all those surveyed (32% - 46%) felt that politicians generally understand how the law works
  • the belief that schools teach how the law works was even lower in the regions, falling to just 16% in some areas such as the south east and south west. Wales (19%), north west (19%) and east of England (17%) supported the view, while Yorkshire and London were slightly higher on 23%
  • regionally nearly a third of people supported the opinion that democracy is not working, with around 31% in the north east and north west agreeing that it worked, while the other regions scored around 38% to 40%
  • regionally only around 20% of all those polled in areas such as the north east, north west, Yorkshire and Humberside, Midlands and the south felt that our democracy was getting better and in Wales the view fell to just 15%

Justice Week is an initiative set up by the three legal professional bodies; the Bar Council, The Law Society, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). The purpose of the week is to boost the profile of justice and the rule of law, helping to place them at the centre stage of public and political debate.

The Bar Council and Law Society commissioned the Populus research agency to include the questions on the UK justice system in their omnibus survey.

The survey was an online research study prepared by Populus from 5-9 February 2020. From the 4182 respondents, 2079 were male and 2103 were female. The 18-24 age range made 11% of total respondents, 25-34 made 17%, 35-44 made 16%, 45-54 made 18%, 55-64 made 15%, and 65+ made 23%.

Regionally, North East and West made 15% of respondents, Yorkshire & Humberside made 8%, the Midlands made 16%, Eastern made 9%, London made 13%, South East and West made 23%, and Wales made 5%. The rest was made of Scotland and Northern Ireland totalling 11% which was not included in the regional statistics section in the report. 91% of the respondents had a white ethnic background and 8% had a BAME ethnic background (1% preferred not to answer).

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Mary Ann Day | 020 8049 3869

About the Bar Council

The Bar Council represents over 17,000 barristers in England and Wales.

Bar Council press office: Press@BarCouncil.org.uk | 020 7611 1429

About CILEx

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is one of the three main professional bodies covering the legal profession in England and Wales. The 20,000-strong membership is made up of Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals and other legal professionals.

CILEx press office contact: Sharon Bruty | 01234 845721