The kitchen table in our house has provided the location for many debates with friends and family – the rights and wrongs of war, austerity, elections, coalitions and Brexit among the light topics on offer. Last week, my daughter and I had a very different chat across it. She recalled the lack of interest her classmates showed in the compulsory citizenship GCSE they sat last summer.
Citizenship is on the curriculum to empower them – to explain their rights and responsibilities, where power lies and to gain insights into the justice system.
Some of her classmates will, of course, urgently need knowledge of their rights when facing eviction, withdrawal of benefits, being fired from a job, deportation, arrest or divorce. It is not a morally comfortable position to simply say that they should have listened and then they would know where to start.
Today marks the start of National Pro Bono Week. Some children and adults whose problems have a legal solution will be lucky enough to benefit from free legal advice, provided by committed professionals who offer their expertise for nothing. Such lawyers are a huge credit to the profession.
But we all know that unmet legal need dwarfs the help available. Initiatives that can add some scale to efforts to widen access to justice and knowledge of rights are therefore of interest – engaging, among others, people who switched off during citizenship lessons.
The Belonging Project is supported by international law firm Hogan Lovells as part of its pro bono work. The project’s graphic cartoons raise awareness of the citizenship rights of children and young people born to Swiss and European Economic Area nationals living in the UK.
Some will scoff at this idea, but they should consider that the Belonging Project has partnered with PositiveNegatives, whose graphic work on justice topics has had 90 million online views. A comic is not a substitute for legal advice or legal aid, but if a cartoon character leads people to the knowledge that their problem has a legal solution, and maybe to appropriate advice, then the initiative has surely been a good use of pro bono time.