How People Understand and Interact with the Law

December 9, 2015: Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel Balmer, Catrina Denvir

Groundbreaking national survey demonstrates worryingly low levels of legal understanding amongst the general population in England and Wales.

The Legal Education Foundation funded internationally renowned researchers Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel Balmer and Catrina Denvir to analyse data from the Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey 2010 and 2012. This is a unique survey where researchers tracked the impact of civil law problems over a period of time. The researchers went back to the same individuals two years after they were first interviewed about a legal problem, to see what impact it was having on them by then. The survey included innovative questions to test participants’ legal knowledge of every day problems, such as with rented housing, employment, taking goods back to a shop, and a relationship breakdown

Key Findings:

  • The findings show that peoples’ understanding of the law is low: only 20 per cent of those surveyed gave three or more correct answers to a series of five questions relating to consumer transactions. This is a lower success rate than would be statistically expected if they had just guessed at the answers.
  • The report also provides insights into how well people recognised difficulties as ‘legal problems’, with most of them putting their situations down to ‘bad luck’, rather than something the law could help them resolve.
  • Experiencing a legal problem reduces an individual’s confidence about solving legal problems in the future. Legal problems prove to be more difficult to resolve than people imagine at the outset.
  • Certain groups are more vulnerable than others, both in terms of their risk of experiencing legal problems and the impact that these problems have on them. Adverse impacts include stress related health problems and loss of confidence.

The findings from this research have already been used by leading organisations Law for Life and Youth Access to inform their work and advance their objectives. To see how Youth Access have used this research to inform their work on the social determinants of young people’s mental health click here. To read Law for Life’s report on the implications of findings from this project for Public Legal Education click here.

To download the Research Insights and Research Report for ‘How People Understand and Interact with the Law’ please use the buttons below.

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