Many PLE projects aim to raise people's awareness of the law and their rights, and how the law can help resolve disputes. Raising awareness is an important first step, and most projects will also provide a guide to action – usually signposting clients to more detailed information or to sources of further help and advice. Awareness-raising campaigns may also be focused on a particular change in the law, such as the government's public awareness campaign on tax self-assessment, or they may be aimed at dealing with common misconceptions. Increased awareness means that: people are better equipped to avoid problems and disputes; and they can take early action to stop a problem escalating into a larger and more serious issue.
A person's ability to deal with law-related problems varies greatly, depending on their own capability and the complexity of the problem. Some people can deal with straightforward problems themselves, particularly in the early stages, if they are given guidance and support. Crucially, people need to be able to recognise when they are out of their depth and when to get expert help. Unfortunately, others find that they can’t afford to get help and representation and so have to deal with things themselves. PLE can help support people in these situations by offering and encouraging knowledge gathering and sharing, and building their skills and confidence so they can manage a situation more effectively.
PLE projects help people understand particular laws and legal systems, with a view to mobilising them to press for change. This can mean challenging a decision through the courts in order to improve the way governments or statutory agencies do things in the future. The Public Law Project for example aims to improve individuals’ and organisations’ access to judicial review proceedings. Poor decision making or ineffective or discriminatory rules and processes can then be highlighted, and communities encouraged to challenge bad practice. These projects are a crucial part of a healthy and active democracy that empowers people to actively participate in its legal and political structures.