This article was written by Yashi Shrivastava, a student of Banasthali University, Jaipur.
Literacy has always been associated with the ability to read, write and use arithmetic. But now recently the meaning of this term has expended to include the ability to use language, numbers, images, computer, and other basic means to understand, communicate, gain useful knowledge and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture. The key to literacy is reading development, a progression of skills that begins with the ability to understand spoken words and the code written words, and culminates in the deep understanding of text.
UNSECO defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
Legal awareness, sometimes called Public Legal Education, is the empowerment of individuals regarding the various legal issues hence promoting consciousness of legal culture and hence enabling them to be a part of the process involving the formation of law and the concept of the rule of law.
Public legal education includes a number of activities that increases public awareness on the issue of law and the justice system. It also includes the fields of practice and study concerned with those activities. Anna-Marie Marshall explains that “in order to realize their rights, people need to take the initiative to articulate them. This initiative, in term, depends on the availability and the prevalence of legal schemes to people confronting problems.”
This education varies from the law school education and the continuing professional education of lawyers and judges as it refers to the general study of legal issues and not to get into the deep details of it. One of the recent approaches towards the interpretation of legal literacy suggests it to be a metaphor. According to this view, the term is intended to suggest some parallel between the institution of law, and the system of language to be mastered, knowledge gained at understanding achieved. Such authors feel that legal literacy serves as a means for people who tend promote such literacy.
Legal awareness enables people to demand justice, reliability and remedies at every level of their existence. It enables to understand or anticipate legal troubles and take the required and necessary steps in order to prevent their occurrence. When a person is aware of his rights as well as has brief legal knowledge, they can easily approach a lawyer for consultation and advice in time, hence confronting or averting the crisis as it comes. It is a known fact that ignorance of legal knowledge magnifies the impact of the legal troubles and difficulties when they take place. Also, the lack of legal knowledge, legal issues appear bigger than they actually are and makes the individual feel unnecessarily intimidated.
Depending on the goals there can be a number of objectives for legal literacy programs.
List of possible objectives:
Methods adopted for the promotion of legal awareness are huge in number. There have been many cases where government has promoted long term legal literacy missions or awareness campaign. Camps, lectures, interactive workshops or crash programs on various basic legal issues have played a major role in spreading legal awareness. Majority of the general public wishes to listen to scholars speak on contemporary issues that have a significance on the rights and livelihood of the general public Other methods are road shows, radio talks, street and theatre plays, as well as the publication of relevant books, periodicals, posters, and charts that deal with particular laws, the distribution of pamphlets, brochures, and stickers, the display of paintings, illustrations in comics, and other ways to ensure publicity for various mobilization activities.
Strategically located display boards in public places (railway stations, bus stations, market places, in front of major government offices and police stations) are also used to help government officials, police, and the public to understand the spirit of law.
Our Constitution enshrines fundamental rights in Part III which becomes illusory rights for those who cannot understand and are not aware of these rights. Equality in law requires equal access to law for this noble principal to translate into reality. A person’s ability to assert his political rights is not balanced by an ability to secure his legal rights, hence this makes it necessary to all of us to increase the legal literacy rate. Our Government adopts the National Common Minimum Programme which underscores the value of legal empowerment in society especially for the margins of the society. Our Government believes that democracy has no meaning for the citizen unless one is aware about his legal rights.
The major question is how can a person abide by law with knowing it? This is a major hindrance to the successful implementation of any law. A large number of cases of violation are due to no legal literacy. Article 39(A) of the Constitution of India gives a directive to the states to ensure that the operation of the legal system does promote justice on a basis of equal opportunity. It directs the states to provide free legal aid with the aid of suitable legislation or schemes. It also directs to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denying to any citizen for reason of economic or other disabilities if people are aware of their rights and duties, the delivery of justice and balancing of various interest in a society becomes easier. Increase in legal literacy ultimately develops into a transparent and accountable Government truly based on the “Rule of Law”.
The Supreme Court of India plays a very crucial role in delivering certain judgments which create awareness among citizens about their rights in spheres of national life. Along with Constitutional provisions of India the media also plays a useful role in making people aware about legal rights and simultaneously contributes to increase in legal literacy. The Judiciary drafts laws to enhance legal literacy by simplifying the language of law that is an obvious responsibility of legislature and that of judicial pronouncements. The complex language of statutes acts as a hurdle to interpret their legal perspective. An attempt should be made to simplify the language of the law so that judgments and laws can be easily understood.
National Legal Literacy Mission empowers the citizens and fosters an open society based on the foundation of political awareness, social equality and economic empowerment. The objectives of this mission is to promote awareness, redress social and economic imbalances, ensuring land rights, providing legal aid to the lady, promoting social consciousness with respect to gender equality, social justice, environmental protection, human security and other similar noble objectives.
Legal awareness and knowledge, both the terms are an indispensable part which enlightens and empowers a citizen to scale new heights of progress and free himself from the executive or any existing authority. It is the central key to unlock the door of positive change. India has the distinction of being the world’s largest functioning democracy. After independence, India has been growing and developing through a democratic system of governance which involves self-rule by the people, clearly implying that the citizens are the constituents of not only the country but the foundation of the country of which the entire structure of our legal framework lies.
According to P. Sathasivam, the Ex-Chief Justice of India, “legal literacy is the core basis of the survival of our constitutional democracy. Our entire judicial set-up functions on the presumptions that all people are aware of their rights and are able to approach the concerned institution.”
The main purpose of the Constitutional law is to safeguard, protect and preserve the life of all citizens and to prevent the rights that such individual possess, from being infringed, harmed and hampered with in the course of their lifetime. Lack of knowledge about the basic legal and civil liberties, human rights, constitutional directives and other guidelines and principals that protect the dignity, liberty and freedom of people manifests itself in the society in the form of problems such as child labour, human trafficking etc that threatens the safety of all.
Legal literacy helps to promote legal consciousness, participate in the formation of laws and policies and rule of law. In Union of India & Ors. Vs. Shanti Yadav & Ors., it was held that to support legal literacy, including legal counseling , legal aid and analysis and evaluation of existing laws.
In Shri Bajrang Vidhyalaya Samati vs. State of Rajasthan, it was said that the state is duty bound to ensure that certain standard of education is maintained throughout the State. According to the Bar Council of India Act, one of the duties imposed upon the bar council of India is to ensure that legal education is imparted while keeping certain standard in mind.
We can also study the aspect of legal literacy in terms of Institutional and Corporate literacy-
According to John Akula,when law-sensitive issues arise, corporate executives often find themselves in what is, for them, unmapped territory, often without requisite law training. When corporate executives work with attorneys they need to develop a common language to bridge probable communication gaps to achieve legal astuteness.
Legal literacy is a tool that helps to bridge the gap between law businesses by simplifying legal term into business language and provides a way to think about law as a useful business tool. According to Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, “corporate legal literacy involves balanced understanding of cross disciplinary influences bringing in legal risk exposure, avoiding lawsuits and transforming potential business legal issues that threaten growth and profitability, into opportunities for building stronger business relationships, delivering sustainable stakeholder value, improving competitive advantage and foremost embedding compliance into the corporate culture to achieve organizational excellence.
The Corporate legal literacy manages legal risk on both employees and business. When corporate executives work with attorneys they need to develop a common language to link probable communication gaps to achieve legal astuteness.
Professionals in various fields who are highly educated too often are not aware of law and implication of its violations. The professionals like psychologist, welfare officers, social workers and academia anre not well aware about their responsibilities and duties contemplated in law. The Non-Governmental organizations steps in here and play a major role in sensitizing them with general legislation by organizing various workshops and training sessions.
In the last, we would like to conclude that legal literacy is nothing an ability to enlighten ourselves about legal issues effecting the society we live in and empowerment of individuals regarding legal issues. Moreover it helps to promote consciousness of legal culture, participation in the formation of laws and the rule of law. Legal literacy also called Civic Education intends to build public awareness and skills related to legal system. It also refers to a field committed to educate people about law.
Legal literacy has certain objectives, like it promotes the legal awareness among the general public. It is very helpful in making people aware about their several legal rights like political rights, education rights and etc. Government also taking initiatives to promote the concept of legal literacy in society as many legal sessions are organizing for general public.
The Constitution of India also provides many rights related to legal literacy. Legal literacy is a source of social development and growth of legal awareness among citizens.
Without legal literacy people can get intimidated and alienated from law, which results as a backdrop as people have no access to justice. This leads to a situation where people come to conflict with the law or are unable to obtain help from it.