Tag Archives: Street Law

The Next Stage of Street Law.

This weekend, the 5th (unofficially) bi-annual Street Law training Session took place in the HQ of the Law Society of Scotland’s headquarters in Edinburgh. It’s the first one in a year-and-a-half I haven’t been involved in, which saddens me a bit.

Street Law is now firmly implanted as part of LSoS’s Legal Education programme – which is fantastic news. Street Law is not ‘teaching law’ the way the LL.B or Diploma means it. The aim of Street Law is to make those most likely to come into contact with the law (who are, by the way, the demographic groups least likely to study law) more aware of the rules and their rights in those situations. Continue reading The Next Stage of Street Law.


#StreetLaw 4: Discrimination and the Law…

…or why it might not be a generational thing.

This week, David and I did something a little different to the previous weeks. We had, up until now, used lessons that we’d either done before personally, or had been prepared by others for us to use. This week, however, we wanted to prepare our own lesson in response to a suggestion from the first week. One girl wanted to talk about the fatal shootings in Ferguson and the issues surrounding it, but we felt that that being the single focus would be too narrow – so a wider discrimination point, focussing in on Ferguson as a case study may be more suitable.

The Premise

Like last week, primarily because it seemed to work, we split the class into groups as the came in the door. There were a few more complaints than last time, but nothing too disruptive. Before the class we prepared 5 scenarios (with brief descriptions) where some form of discrimination was present, and each group of students would take one (we assigned them randomly) and discuss it. Specifically they had to consider:

  • Whether there was discrimination.
  • Whether this was justified.
  • The effect the discrimination would have, and whether it was positive or negative.

Each group would then have to report back briefly on what they discussed and what their conclusions were – and what they thought in relation to other groups’ discussions.

The Execution

Taking each of the scenarios in turn, and the groups’ discussions of them:

Affirmative Action

The first group were looking at race being a factor in US college admissions.  Although we framed the question as “more difficult for white Americans” and didn’t give any statistics regarding racial representations, the group agreed that there was discrimination here – but said it was “in favour of racial minorities”. They also felt that, since there was a very low level of non-white students, they felt that is could be justified in terms of achieving a bigger picture of equality.
One pupil in the group did, however, raise the very important point that it was no good raising the number of non-white students if they weren’t able to pass the course. She also said that, even if they did pass, they still faced a discrimination getting jobs, so there was another level on top of it.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships

The next group had to consider the old regime where Marriages were strictly a woman-man affair and same-sex couples could only enter into Civil Partnerships. This groups agreed there was a disparity here, but there was one boy in particular who didn’t see it as too much of a difference. He correctly pointed out that, while the names were different, the question said that the rights each couple got were broadly the same, so it was a name-only difference.
I found this interesting, since this was a major point when Civil Partnerships were being introduced. We pushed and asked him if he thought that being able to call the relationship “marriage” was important, even symbolically. He said yes, but now that “they” had marriage “…they should stop marching in the town. They’re not different any more”. Overlooking for a moment the repeated use of”they”, I suggested that perhaps gay people faced other kinds of  problems, not to do with marriage – such as people calling things they found bad “gay” in the school yard, for example. He shrugged.

Racial Profiling

The third group considered racial profiling in a UK context. It’s worth bearing in mind that the class is about 70% BAME (and the group discussing this was 80% black) – and given our lesson on Stop and Search a few weeks ago, we expected a certain discussion to follow. But we were surprised. The question explicitly highlights the massive difference between the proportion of the UK who is black (3%) and its black prison population (11%). But the group said that this could be because the majority of people who commit a crime were black. The fact there was a gap was because black people commit more crime.
David and I were both surprised by this, but then one of the group said more. He said that black people were, generally, from poorer areas and received a poorer education than white people. He said that, because of this, they were more likely to be involved in crime and that this caused the problem. Again, a group had looked beyond the example and reasoned that there was a deeper problem to be addressed before the issue could properly resolved.

Class War? 

This example was, perhaps, the odd one out of the 5. In this example (based on free university tuition in Scotland), it is explicitly said that all students can go fee-free, regardless of their background, but there were few additional grants available. I’ve written about my views of this before but I was curious to see what the less politicly-biased would say.
They stated very clearly that this couldn’t be discrimination, since everyone was treated equally. But then we asked about the outcome. If everyone starts out with a different level of support, and then the government treats everyone equally, don’t the richer people keep their advantage? The general response, even when the question was opened up to the class, was yes, but that it wasn’t the government’s fault, and that was just the way it was. What, then, about people with disabilities – should they be treated the same in spite of the obvious mobility issues? The class was, obviously, a lot more understanding of these needs, but still didn’t make the connection between ‘equality of input’ and ‘equality of outcome’. it seems I may still be in the minority on this.

All Women Short-lists

I admit, this was the one I was most interested in on a personal level. The use of All-women short-lists (AWSs) has always been controversial, but I thought that the class would have become aware of them through their modern Studies classes and maybe discussed the issues. However, by chance, the group that had to discuss and present on AWSs was made up of 5 boys.
Unfortunately, they focussed not on the fact that while women are 52% of the UK population they are only 22% of all MPs, but instead on the disadvantage this would put men at in some constituencies. While at the discussion stage, David and I both suggested to them that, perhaps, while some men were being disadvantaged, there was a bigger problem that had to be addressed. They agreed that something had to be done to encourage more women to be MPs, but they also thought that AWS were discriminatory against men and that their use could not be justified at all.
There was one girl not in that particular group who also tried to make the argument that there was a bigger problem in the under-representation of women. She was even less successful than we were. Although, she was able to hold her own well. This was slightly depressing, since the boys were making the same arguments heard when AWSs have been discussed amongst adults.

The Conclusion

So all in all, while there was a lot of good discussion in the room, we both left the classroom feeling slightly sad about it all. Both David and I had hoped, I think, that the kids would be much more liberal and understanding of discrimination and the need to fight it than they actually were. The (verging on) homophobic attitude of one of the class was itself surprising to us – particularly since it didn’t seem to have any religious basis (which would explain, though not excuse, it). There was also a lack of appreciation that ‘treating everyone the same’ isn’t the same as ‘treating everyone equally’, and some didn’t recognise that sometimes we must be aware of a disadvantage (like class, or disability) in order to effectively combat it. But the discussion over AWS was perhaps the one that really got me. The arguments that the group (and wider class) put forward against AWS were the same ones I have heard time and time again in political meetings about them. There is an accepted truism that discrimination is a generational thing and that racism, sexism and homophobia are things that will disappear when my parents’ generation does. That class made me think otherwise.
That being said however, there were positives too. Some pupils were incredibly switched on the the fact that sometimes the inequality isn’t the root cause of the problem, but instead a symptom of it. The boy who said that perhaps it was true black people did commit more crime in the UK, but that was itself because of an other inequality under the surface was really impressive. As was the group who weren’t just looking at the action being taken to tackle US college admissions, but also considered the support that was needed both before and after that to make sure that it got results and made a real difference in ending the discrimination. Perhaps, if those people were able to talk with their classmates, progress might be made after all.

Teaching Points

+ The group work actually went really well and, while there were a few issues (one boy was a very dominant voice in his particular group) people were able to work together.
+ For the first lesson we had developed ourselves, David and I were really pleased with how it went and it was received.
– That being so, we did have a section on Ferguson in particular, and a “draft your own Equality Act” which we had to cut because we didn’t watch our time. We’ll have to watch that in future.
– There was a general resistance to having to formally ‘present’ conclusions to the class. The teacher suggested that in future, we tell the class a week ahead if the wanted to do presentaitons. Perhaps it was the word itself that was the issue?

#StreetLaw 3: Aliens and Human Rights

…or when I realised even kids hate lawyers!

For our third lesson we thought we’d be a bit more adventurous that we had one before and not use just worksheets and pens, but strips of paper with human rights (mostly according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) which the groups can move about themselves. It was a risk…but we were prepared to take it. It was even more dangerous since Ms. Hemming – the class’s usual teacher who was usually in the class with us – was off sick. We would have a cover teacher, but would she appreciate the Street Law approach? And, more importantly, would we be able to control the class effectively without our security teacher?

The Premise

Instead of any sort of introduction at the start of the class, we asked the class to wait outside the door while we prepared. When they did come in we told people where to go in the class, and this would split them into groups. This seems a tad authoritarian, but last week we suspected people weren’t really sticking to the groups – so we wanted to keep an eye on it. Once the groups were in, David asked for a some examples of human rights from the class and we got a good mix of the big hitters (speech, religion etc.) and a few smaller ones (education, movement etc.) which was a good start. The class, it seemed, were aware of what rights were and a few different examples.

The Execution

Without further ado, I took over. “Folks, I have to tell you…”, I said as I headed out small bundles of 15 paper strips, “…while you were moving between classes, aliens have taken over the planet”. I expected a few titters – but there were none. “The aliens are friendly. They don’t want to hurt us or kill us, but they do think that we humans have too many rights, so we have to get rid of some. In fact, they want us to get rid of 3 of the rights in the bundles I’ve given you.”
And without waiting all 5 of the groups got to work. I didn’t tell them to start, nor did I give them a time limit. They just got started looking out the rights they would ditch. We were surprised, but pleased. But the different ways the groups approached it was interesting:

  • One group decided to sort the rights into 3 columns of “Keep”, “Ditch” and “Maybe” and see where they ended up. By the end of that they had 2 in their ‘ditch’ column so had to think hard about the 3 or 4 in their ‘maybe’ pile and which one they would offer up to their new overlords.
  • Most groups generally put all the rights out in front of them, someone picked one out and made the case for getting rid of it and then the group discussed it. These groups were a bit slower than the one above, but it got the job done.
  • There was one group who, arguing that they wanted one particular member to keep quiet offered up the “Freedom of Speech”. I suggested that his wasn’t wise, so they reconsidered.

In the end, all the groups managed the group, but the only rights all the groups agreed to ditch were “Right to Bear Arms” and “Right to Work”. Most groups found this step quite simple, saying that there were rights you would obviously keep, and others you would like, but don’t “need”. 1 group (not the columns group) said they found this hard because there were 5 rights they were toying with for their 3rd ditch.

This process was repeated twice more. In the second round, each group had to get rid of 4 more rights and the most common casualties were “Right to Assemble Peaceably”, “Freedom of the Press”, “Right to Marriage and Family” and “Right to a Lawyer” – the reasoning being that most of these rights were ‘included’ in other rights (which we would come back to later). One group did get rid of the “Right to Life, Liberty and Due Process” – which the class felt was an interesting choice.
In the final round the groups had to cut their rights down to just 3. After all the class had made their decisions, the “Right to Life etc.”, “Freedom of Speech” and (somewhat surprisingly) “Right to Education” were the winners (i.e – had the fewest groups ditching them). The final interesting point here was that there were members in 2 of the groups who were very determined to get “Freedom of Religion” into the top 3. One of the groups had an equally determined voice that it wouldn’t, but the other required both myself and the cover teacher to step in and impose democracy (3 – 2 to ditch) on the group (despite them already having abandoned the right to vote). This was a slightly unexpected turn.

The Conclusion

Having taken the votes and struck of the rights that our extra-terrestrial overlords had removed, David lead an exploration of what kind of world we now lived in. Some said that many of the rights were kind of repeating themselves. For example, “Freedom of Speech” mostly covered “Freedom of Religion”, “Freedom of the Press” and “Right to Assemble”, but when it was asked whether going to church or the mosque would be “speech” this became less certain. Possibly our egos having been bruised, the class were asked why they got of the “Right to a Lawyer” but kept “Right to Life, Liberty and Due Process”. Most said that a lawyer wasn’t needed for a trial to be fair, and that the “due process” would protect them anyway – but when asked what would happen if the process didn’t include right to a lawyer, there was again, a bit more hesitation.
To wind the class up we introduced the idea that these rights do exists and asked a simple question: Where do these rights come from? Ask any Law Student and they wouldn’t hesitate before saying the ECHR. But the pupils said it was “The Constitution” and “The Bill of Rights”. This highlighted 2 things to us:

  1. The influence of American Legal dramas continues unabated.
  2. We forget that we probably didn’t really know what the ECHR was before we started our degrees. And now we’d forgotten that we’d forgotten that.

Overall, the class again enjoyed this lesson – and I’d like to do it again with a different group (or age range) to see how the answers differ.

Teaching Points

+ This time we were able to control things when strong opinions were being discussed and debated.
+ We managed to cope really well without our usual teacher and her authority behind us.
– Something we weren’t prepared for – he “aliens” scenario actually distracted a few people into focussing on ‘how to beat the aliens’ and not on the Human Rights task at hand.

#StreetLaw 2 – Should It Be a Crime

…or why kids seem to have a basic (strict) morality.

For our second Street Law lesson, David and I decided to do one of the lessons we did at our training: Should It Be a Crime? There was no BBC filming this week – so we were relieved that at least. we wouldn’t have to keep repeating ourselves for the camera. Although it did mean we had a bit more time and could spend less time being mic’ed up and having things re-shot.

The Premise

When we went into the class, we asked the pupils to name any laws they knew. We were pleased that they came out with a list of things like murder, theft and assault (though a little bit of me did one of them to say “the requirement for all contracts in land to be in writing, preferably with a witness to ensure probity”). They were asked what the connection was and they were able to realise that all these laws were about crimes. We never got into what a crime was in a legal way (rules that state can enforce limiting your behaviour) since it would be a little distracting at that time to the task at hand.

The Execution

After last time, we decided to mix up the groups a bit by getting all the pupils to count to themselves up from 1 to 5, then starting again – with all the 1’s being a group; all the 2’s; all the 3’s etc. (this didn’t stop the almost inevitable 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…ehh, is it me…ehh 6). Each group was given a sheet of various scenarios and asked whether they felt what was going on should be a crime, whether or not it actually is or not. There were lots of scenarios, covering petty theft through to environmental damage. But, for most of them, the class were in pretty broad agreement – and if the Bellahouston S3 class were in charge of criminal legislation, life would be tough.
There were a few interesting points from it though. The first was the classes perception of stealing. They all agreed that if someone stole money from someone’s purse, or stole food in order to feed their family then that was definitely stealing and should obviously be criminal. Yet, each group also thought that keeping an extra £5 you were given in your change in a shop should not be criminal. Even when it was pointed out that people in both scenarios are leaving with more money than they’re really entitled to, the answer was that it was the fault of the shop owner hey gave too much change – they had to suffer their mistake.
They also had a particular point to make about one scenario worded this way:

Lilly approaches a man for purposes of prostitution.

The room was very evenly split about whether prostitution should be illegal or not. Most felt that if both people were old enough, and were able to say no, then everything was fine – if you can sell yourself doing any other job, you could sell your services doing this one. But 2 of the 5 groups felt that there was a morality line to be drawn, and that for Lilly’s protection she shouldn’t be allowed to sell her body. Also, Lilly was approaching someone to offer her services, so might have been introducing prostitution into his life (albeit before his refusal) and he didn’t want that.
On a sidenote – during our training in January it was pointed out that the question doesn’t actually tell us who is the prostitute and who is the ‘customer’, but every person in the room assumed it was Lilly. When we suggested to the class that it could be the man that was the prostitute, and Lilly was willingly going up to him because she wanted to pay him, more tended towards decriminalisation, since intrusion was less of a problem. I should note, however, that one boy found the suggestion that the man could be a prostitute very difficult to accept. Equally, many in the class who objected on ‘morality and protection’ grounds couldn’t accept the suggestion of one girl that Lilly might actually want to be a prostitute. A similar position, perhaps, to some of our law makers.

The Conclusion

So in an attempt to draw these things together, we asked the class “What makes something so bad that it should be a crime”? All in all, the class did pretty well. It was agreed that it wasn’t enough that people thought it was ‘bad’ but that it had to “cause harm” to somebody. It was also suggested that you had to be able to catch someone doing it – “it’s pointless to have a crime and you can’t stop people doing it or they’re just going to do it anyway”. Surprisingly, this attitude didn’t stop 4 of the groups opting to keep marijuana use illegal!
If we’d had more time, we’d have maybe discussed how things are at some points illegal and then made legal once attitudes change and what drives that. Does what society perceives as “causing harm” change, and if so how; or is it that we’re now able to catch people more easily? Do computers change this and our perceptions of crime? but alas, lunch was looming and we knew better than that.

Teaching Points

+ Mixing up the groups worked well and encouraged different people to speak.
+ Having the discussions and debate in the groups and across the room got people interested.
– Because of the strong opinions in some matters, the class got a little rowdy. We’ll need to be able to control the class in these situations.

#StreetLaw 1 – Stop and Search

…or a how a group of S3 pupils played a part in this week’s FMQs.

I’ve written before about The Law Society of Scotland’s expanded Street Law programme and how excited I am by it. On Tuesday, I took my first lesson at Bellahouston Academy with an S3 class. The subject was Police Scotland’s use of Stop and Search [S&S] – and the BBC came in to film some of for a report they were doing – more of which later.

The Premise

The first thing we asked the class was whether any of them had been Stopped and Searched by the police. One boy mentioned an incident where a whole group of people were searched leaving a party – although he did mention that someone was stabbed, so maybe that was justified. No-one else at this point said they’de been S&S’ed, which was concerning as we were going on the premise that at least a few would have been. It wasn’t fatal, since we wan’t to discuss a more practical side of the law, but it would still have been good form more people to have been able to relate to the issue at hand. Never the less, my Street Law Partner (David) and I powered through and carried on.

The Execution

The kids were put in groups (or more accurately, worked in the groups they were in since the BBC kept stealing our time wiring us up with microphones and whatnot) and given sheets with different scenarios on them. For each, the class were asked whether they thought the Police should have the power to stop and search the people involved. For example, one asked:

Tim and his mates are playing football in the park when the police come and decide to search them all. The boys are known for being trouble in the neighbourhood so the Police line them all up against a wall and search them all individually. They find nothing.

All the groups agreed that Tim and his team’s pitch invasion wasn’t justified at all. Some even pointed out that just because someone was misbehaving in the past, you can’t assume they’re causing trouble this time too. I wonder if the girl who said that knew she’d given a fundamental rule of Scottish Evidence law? But that’s a pretty uncontroversial scenario. The one that caused the most debate was this one:

It is a busy Saturday afternoon on Buchanan street and a man has been stabbed. The last thing he manages to mutter before he dies from his injury is that it was a tall man in a turban. The police then pull over everyone on Buchanan Street in a turban to be searched for the weapon.

The class was quite evenly split on this. Some argued that, since only a certain group of people wear turbans, it was racial discrimination while others said that they since the police had nothing else to go on, in this case, it could be justified. This led to a great bit of debate about what could justify a search. One boy suggested that the police needed to have a ‘good hint’ that a person was up to something dodgy in order to S&S them – stumbling upon the legal definition that states that the officer must have “reasonable grounds of suspicion” to search someone.

The Conclusion

During the the discussion, one boy shared that, just a few weeks ago he was S&S’ed by the police on the way home from school. He was with his friends and the police asked to S&S him. Two points of his story stood out for me. The first was that the police officer never told him what he was looking for. It was only when the boy asked what he was looking for he said he was looking for drugs. Then the boy said that when the police asked to search him he said yes (i.e it was a “consensual search”). I asked why, and he said that it was because they were the police and he didn’t know if he could say no.

This got us wondering – what did the class think they had to tell police if they were caught. Answers we got included your name and address (which people who are being S&S’ed are legally required to give the officer stopping them) but also included where you’re going, what you’re doing and where you’ve come from. There were looks of genuine shock when we told them that they didn’t have to say a thing to police, other than confirm their name, address and nationality. It was obvious that these kids didn’t know their rights – and now they were a little more aware.

The last thing we did was ask two questions. The first was whether the class felt knew more about S&S than when we started – the answer being a resounding yes (which was comforting). The second was whether, after all the discussion and issues we’d identified like unfair use and police abuse of the power, the class would keep S&S or get rid of it altogether. Surprisingly, the class voted about 3:1 to keep it. Maybe there is some good in it after all.

The Fallout

As I mentioned, BBC Scotland were there filming the class for a story on S&S they would be running that week. We didn’t know what they were looking for or what they would use – but seemed pretty keen to include some of the class’s opinions in their piece.
On Wednesday it emerged that Police Scotland, despite saying last June they wouldn’t search under 12s, have S&S’ed over 350. On Scotland 2015 the Police Scotland representative argued that since most of these were consensual, it was OK. But, thinking back to my Street Law class, was it true consent – or is it that the kids didn’t know they didn’t have to consent? Bearing in mind children under 12 generally can’t agree to much – even if they said yes freely, can that still be taken as proper consent?
The following day, partly in thanks to the BBC’s report, Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservative Leader) asked a question at FMQs on police use of stop and search generally, given that around 90% of S&S’s are negative. I like to think that David, myself and the S3 class at Bellahouston helped shape the agenda for a week or so.

Teaching Points

+ Working in smaller groups, feeding back to the class is effective.
+ Relating directly back to the class’s experiences is a good way to get them involved.
– Mix up the groups a bit more – encourage new discussions.

Creating a High School Law School…

…or why I’m particularly excited about Street Law.

I’ve complained twice in the last month that understanding of the law outside of the profession is, generally, quite poor. Even our own government makes mistakes that are simple to avoid (and for some, their approach to law-making leave a lot to be desired). I’ve also said that it is up to law students and lawyers to improve this. This weekend, I took action.

On Saturday morning I went to go to the Law Society of Scotland’s (LSOS’s) Offices in Edinburgh. My blog hadn’t gotten me in trouble (yet), and it wasn’t about court reform. I had volunteered, along with more than 50 other Law students from across Scotland, to take part in a weekend-long training session. Two American folks had come over to teach the bunch of us about something that has existed in The States for about 40 years, but only arrived on our shores about 4 months ago: Street Law.

Street Law

Street Law is about helping young people engage with the law. It’s not about cases or statutes; it’s about concepts and principles. It was founded in the 1970’s in Georgetown, DC, essentially as a way of teaching kids about their rights. But since then it has grown and expanded to look at all aspects of the law and is taught to a whole range of people, including prisoners and community groups.
Instead of ‘death by PowerPoint’, lists of cases to memorise and statutes to remember, Street Law focuses on the bigger picture. The aim of the Scottish Scheme, which was trialled last last year, is to teach school pupils (S3/S4) about the law in a way they would find engaging, interesting and most of all exciting. The central aim is that people are able to face the law on their own terms and in a way they understand. In essence, it’s about making the law relevant to those learning it.
Imagine, for example, going into a school in Castlemilk or Drumchapel. As much as I love talking about the UK Constitution, it’s unlikely to be a hot topic in the playground. The fact that Wee Jimmy got stopped by the police last week but Jimmy didn’t know what to do is probably a lot more interesting, so that is what we talk about, and our devolution debates have to wait for another time. And even then, you don’t go on about the procedural changes the  Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2005 introduced, but what they mean in real life. You ask whether the Police should be able to stop anyone for any reason, or if limits should be placed on them. If so – what are they? And from there you can even ask whether they think an individual’s freedom more important than societal safety? From wee Jimmy’s unfortunate incident you can explore a national scandal…and they might just listen.

Scottish Enlightenment

The hope of LSoS is that, by getting the law into schools, with the backing of Head Teachers and Classroom workers, it won’t seem so scary and remote. During the weekend, we got to hear from those already delivering Street Law lessons in Scotland and according to them it has been a storming success. Under the pretence of aliens arriving from some distant planet, they had kids deciding which Human Rights they needed to be safe, and how they did it. School pupils have been thinking about whether keeping the wrong change from a shop should be a crime, and whether it should be more or less of a crime than selling drugs – and why. Things that would never even cross their minds otherwise are, all of a sudden, accessible because they’re being asked to come up with an answer – not being asked what the answer is.

That is the true strength of Street Laws approach, and why its such an exciting idea – the learners are at the heart of everything that happens. One of the most interesting things from the whole weekend was ‘The Michael Morton Experiment’. A crime scene was set up in the room. A note was left on the wall. Evidence and information was presented and, in groups, the participants had to try and piece together what had happened. Had Michael, murdered his wife(Christine), or had someone else done it? Was the fact he seemed to show no remorse over his wife’s death the reaction of a man in shock – or a sign of a cold-hearted killer? When all these questions had been considered, people were paired off, and 1 acted and a Prosecutor of, and the other as a Defender for, Michael Morton in a plea negotiation. The evidence was damning, but not water-tight. Was a deal worth it? Was there still reasonable doubt? Is it worth going to trial even though, if found guilty, Michael Morton would be executed?
When us law students did this on Saturday Afternoon, a fair number of the participants thought that Michael Morton was guilty. About 90% came to a bargain that involved some amount of jail-time for the man. It was only after all of this that it was revealed that this was not actually an experiment. It was based on a real case, where Michael spent 25 years in prison for killing his wife. On 19th December 2011, Michael Morton was found innocent. He had been convicted based on incomplete evidence and untruthful prosecutors.
What the defenders in the room didn’t know was that the prosecutors had been given 4 additional pieces of evidence. All of these categorically exonerated Michael Morton, but the prosecutors didn’t have to tell the defenders about them i.e. there was no duty to disclose. what does the prosecutor go for: the win, or the right answer?

When this is used in a school, the whole concept of what ‘justice’ is exploded wide open. Not because a teacher stood in front of the class with a jurisprudence textbook, but because the learners stepped inside the shoes of real lawyers. They examined the evidence. They drew the conclusions. They had to decide what to do in the negotiation. They had to decide if being right or being successful was more important to them. Decisions solicitors and advocates have to make every day were instead being made by them, and suddenly don’t seems do remote or distant.

Going Meta

If we are serious about engaging people in the law (and by extension politics), Street Law is absolutely the best way to start. By using examples the school children can relate to (such as stop-and-search), simple examples (such as aliens stealing our Human Rights) and fun, interactive teaching methods (like ‘The Michael Morton Experiment’ does), “The Law” can slowly become just “the law”. Not some far off concept that only people in wigs and silly gowns can understand, but something that affects everybody.
In essence, Street Law democratises law and can help play a part in promoting fair access to justice in Scotland. We encourage greater understanding of what the law is and what it means, so in future when Tory MP’s make nonsensical statements about the Human Rights Act, its not just the lawyers on twitter who ridicule him for it, but non-lawyers get why he’s wrong as well.
But more than that. Street Law helps to promote engaged, analytical and curious minds in the next generation, adn demystifies the idea of ‘being a lawyer’. The legal profession is still seen as an old boys’ club where Legal Dynasties reign and the top lawyers are overwhelmingly rich, white men. It is not an expanding circle, and not something for the wee kid in Drumchapel. We have to change this perception.

Street Law is our chance to do so.