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26 February, 2013

Vicky Pryce case highlights need for legal education: Lib-Dem Peer calls for new Academies to heed its warning

Michael Gove's new curriculum for England has re-stated the need for mandatory citizenship education, despite his earlier misgivings about the subject. State schools must still deliver education about the law within citizenship, which includes 'how courts and tribunals work'.

The Vicky Pryce case dramatically illustrates the cost of not even indirectly preparing young citizens for their role as jurors, which has led to the reputational and financial costs of a retrial.

Yet, despite the reinstatement of citizenship in the compulsory curriculum, over half of the population will be exempt from this because they will be educated in Academies, outside the National Curriculum.

The Academy system leaves headteachers to choose which elements of the curriculum they will follow. Widespread doubt about the future obligation to teach the law has seen many let go of this discipline.

On Friday, lawyer and peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury, founder and President of the Citizenship Foundation, issued a call for all schools and in particular Academies, to heed the lessons of the Pryce case for coming generations.

'It's vital to regain the momentum of citizenship education lost over the past two years,' he said.

'Academies have an indispensable civic duty to help their pupils cope with an increasingly complicated democracy and law-bound world: for their own benefit and that of society.'

The Citizenship Foundation has been running education for the law for over 20 years, delivering two Mock Trial competitions that engage nearly 600 schools supported by 1,500 judges, barristers and magistrates. These take place in courts throughout the UK, introducing students age 11-18 to the administration of the law, supplementing class-lessons with real-life engagement.

This year's Bar Mock Trial final is at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 23 March.

‘It's an unfortunate fact of modern life that a fair justice system is sometimes going to be complicated,' said Andy Thornton, Chief Executive Officer at the Citizenship Foundation.

‘This high-profile case has shown us why each citizen should have a good enough working knowledge of the law and its processes, taking their turn in upholding its standards. Thankfully, schools are expected to induct young people into this. But a loophole allows Academies to sidestep this. In my opinion it's a loop-hole too big for democratic comfort.'

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