Government lawyers' school visits have been helping children become confident individuals and responsible citizens

“I didn’t know I could make a change; now I know that I can I feel really, really great. I feel like an adult”.

This quote comes from a P5 pupil from Bowhouse Primary School who took part in the Government Legal Service for Scotland’s and Office of the Scottish Parliamentary Counsel’s “Schools Project”, and perfectly illustrates what those involved were trying to achieve.

Schools project

As a group of interested lawyers in Government, we wish to work with teachers on simple but targeted projects to improve understanding of the role that law and lawyers play in society.

To children, lawyers are all too often either a TV caricature or someone who turns up if there’s trouble. Our aim is to open their eyes and minds, but also to inspire them to think about positive changes they can make in their local communities and the role of the law in making that change.

The aim is to work in partnership with teachers on projects. The intention is to ensure the best possible outcome for the pupils. Projects have taken advantage of the new flexibilities and themes of the Curriculum for Excellence – responsible citizen, successful learner, effective contributor and confident individual.

Bowhouse Primary

Due to ongoing problems with vandalism in the area, the teacher had designed a project on vandalism and littering. The team worked with her to explore ways in which the law could be woven into that project.

Pupils brainstormed ideas to tackle both. Through interactive games they analysed, selected and compared their best ideas, also considering what their wider community would think. They had to balance their ideas with fairness and cost, explain their ideas in class, then produce laws based on their ideas which they debated in a mock Parliament.

Pupils learned what lawyers do through a quiz but also used the skills lawyers employ on a daily basis: problem solving, balancing competing interests, balancing risks and communicating advice and ideas to others.

They visited their community to find examples of vandalism; they wrote an anti-vandalism anthem (to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believing”!) with an accompanying music video, created sculptures out of litter and a “Graffiti Wall”. They also had the confidence to go and speak to their local secondary school, the prime suspects!

The team was invited back to attend the grand opening of their Graffiti Wall. The whole project was a brilliant experience. In the words of their teacher: “It has been hugely beneficial for the children to understand the positive sides to the job of a lawyer… they have thoroughly enjoyed working with you and have gained confidence and a sense of responsibility and pride for their area.”

Musselburgh Grammar School

Again lawyers fed into a wider programme set out by the teacher. The challenge was to bring to life a series of lessons on the parliamentary process within S2 modern studies. The pupils had decided to focus the policy of how to give young people more things to do in the community and to keep them off of the streets and out of trouble.

The lesson attended by two Government lawyers focused on policy development. The pupils were taught how to analyse policies and consider their impact on the wider community. The subject matter for this session was the use of sunbeds by children (addressed in the Public Health etc (Scotland) Act 2008). The focus was to show pupils that different stakeholders have different interests in how solutions to problems are found.

The pupils began thinking about their own policies – related to after-school activities for children. Having learned a bit about policy development, the pupils developed their own ideas into draft legislation.

They continued to work on their rules and prepared their supporting arguments. A Government lawyer and drafter returned, when the Facilities for Teenagers (Scotland) Bill was debated and amended in a mock parliamentary debate. This allowed the pupils to vocalise their respective positions in a structured format and after some very impressive arguments and one or two impromptu trade-offs, the final text of the bill was agreed.

As with the first project, a quote nicely sums up the project’s success: “I didn’t know I could be a lawyer; now I would like to.”

The future

These two projects have provided a fun, interactive and successful means of getting a positive message about lawyers and the law to children who might not have received that message otherwise. They have sprung from informal contacts, but could spread in a structured way to many different schools. Someone in your office is bound to have an interest, or know a teacher or a school which could develop such a project in their curriculum, and through the network we wish to create make something happen. Getting involved is incredibly rewarding – you see and harness the enthusiasm and unbridled imagination of children.

In the words of one of the team of lawyers: “It’s just brilliant to see the enthusiasm which children bring to problems; it’s so refreshing.”

Law reform update

With the Parliament in recess July and August, law reform work is mainly focused on a high number of consultations issued by the Scottish and UK Governments. The European Commission has also issued a number of green papers that are being considered, including on transparency, corporate governance in financial institutions, and a European contract law.

The Obligations Committee is considering Scottish Government consultations, including “Damages for Wrongful Death”, as well as the Damages (Scotland) Bill. The Society has been invited to provide oral evidence on the bill to the Justice Committee in early September. The Obligations Committee is also considering the Penalty Clauses (Scotland) Bill consultation, which seeks views on the practical implications of implementing the bill, originally drafted by the Scottish Law Commission.

The Criminal Law Committee has recently made representations to the UK Parliament on both the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc Bill and the Identity Cards Bill. The committee is also currently preparing written evidence on the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill and the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, along with the Family Law and Legal Aid committees.

The Planning Law Committee is also busy with a number of bills, including the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, and the Environmental Law Committee is considering the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, in conjunction with the Rural Affairs Committee. More detail on the content of the written evidence will be given in future editions.

Calman Commission

Michael Clancy, Director of Law Reform, has been asked to sit on the Calman Implementation Group, which will look at implementing the proposals contained in the Calman Commission review of devolution.

The group, co-chaired by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Exchequer Secretary to the UK Treasury, David Gauke, held their first meeting in Edinburgh on 26 July to discuss how the proposals would be taken forward. A large number of the proposals put forward by the Society have already been taken on board and will be implemented. A number of smaller technical groups will now be created and a number of the Society’s members will be involved in more detailed discussions. The Government has committed to introduce the proposals in a Scotland Bill this autumn, with full implementation by 2015.

EU Justice and Home Affairs

The Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee (EERC) has begun its consideration of the European Commission’s Work Programme for 2010-14, and is consulting subject committees with a view to identifying the EU policy and legislative proposals within devolved areas that could potentially have a significant impact on Scotland. The Law Reform Department has been invited by the Justice Committee to give evidence relevant to the committee’s subject area on matters including those arising from the Lisbon Treaty.

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