Legal Essentials for Charity Activists – why campaigners need to understand the law

by stevebroach

This post is a blatant plug for a training day I’m running with Irwin Mitchell solicitors on Monday 17 November. It also explains why in my view it is essential to have a basic understanding of how the law works to be an effective activist or campaigner – so it is hopefully of some wider interest. But do please come to the training if you can, it’ll be ace.

I’ve blogged previously about why charities need to employ more lawyers to support their advocacy work. On the flip side – there is no reason why anyone involved in advocacy or campaigning activity (whether for a charity or otherwise) should not gain a working understanding of legal essentials. The law is often seen as a type of modern magic – something written down in learned tomes which only a certain few can understand. This is obviously nonsense – it’s just words and ideas, some more complicated than others but none incomprehensible, no matter how hard us lawyers try.

Indeed I simply don’t understand how anyone can properly represent their cause in Parliament without knowing the different sources of law and how they can be used and influenced. Having been a campaigner for seven years before qualifying as a barrister, I know you can pick a lot of this up as you go on. However the information you get this way is patchy and it’s generally coming from the ‘other side’ – often as Ministers, officials or MPs tell you that there are legal reasons why the change you are looking for cannot be achieved, which may well not be the case.

So we came up with the idea that we should put on a ‘legal essentials’ training day for charity activists. The day won’t cover the substantive law in any particular area – there are loads of opportunities to hear people talk about legal developments in a particular field, for example the new Care Act governing adult social care (unsubtle trailer for future training plug). Instead we are going to look at some key legal nuts and bolts, including answering the following questions:

  • What is the difference between powers and duties – and how do you identify the key duties which give rise to proper rights? (case studies – section 17 Children Act 1989 and section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970)
  • When is guidance binding – and what does ‘statutory’ guidance really mean? (case study – National Framework for Children and Young People’s Continuing Care)
  • What are the key ‘common law’ duties, who makes them up (answer – Judges) and where do they come from? (case study – the duty to consult and the Supreme Court’s judgment in Moseley v Haringey)
  • How can you use international human rights instruments and what legal force do they have? (case studies – children’s best interests and Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child / the right to independent living for disabled people under Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)

This this the full list of topics we intend to cover. The intention is that anyone who comes on the training should leave with a proper understanding of the sources of law and how to make them work to support their cause. Most of the case studies will look at children’s rights and disability rights examples – but the training should be useful no matter what area you work in. If you book on, we will ask you if there are any particular themes or topics you would like us to discuss.

We are charging for the training, but we don’t want cost to prevent anyone coming who would find it interesting and useful. As such we have put the costs into tiers according to the size of organisation – the cost for small organisations is £50. We also have limited number of free places for individuals and for organisations without funding. These are particularly targeted at disabled people and carers but we will consider any applications. Contact details and the booking form are on the flyer.

Do join us for the training if you can. If you can’t but would be interested in coming if we run it again next year, please let us know in the comments below. I’d also be very grateful for examples of how campaigners and activists have used the law in their work.