Wrongs and responsibilities

What happens at a children's hearing? What happens if you witness a crime? Who decides what happens to children if their parents split up? These are some of the questions addressed in a new teacher's pack from the City of Edinburgh, Young Citizens and the Law.

The pack is part of a Partnership Against Crime Initiative sponsored by the Scottish Office, Edinburgh's education department, Lothian and Borders Police and Standard Life insurance.

Taking young people's views on board was regarded as essential, so a questionnaire was distributed to five of the authority's secondary schools (James Gillespie's, Liberton High, Queensferry High, Trinity Academy and the Royal High).

This revealed that pupils had little or no knowledge of the purpose and function of children's panels and a poor grasp of "official" language used in relation to the law.

The pack, drawn up by guidance teachers from the Royal High, Liberton High and Trinity Academy in conjunction wth Edinburgh's guidance adviser, Sandra Cowper, addresses these and other issues in sections covering "Rules, Rights and Responsibilities", "Law and Order", "Courts" and "You and the Law". It is aimed at S1-S3 personal and social education classes.

At the Young Citizens and the Law conference in Edinburgh, where it was officially launched in June, groups of six S2 pupils from every city school attended along with guidance teachers, Children's Reporters and members from groups such as Family Mediation.

The organisers found that pupils viewed the police in a more positive light after the conference (some even thinking in career terms) and they hope the pack will have a similar effect. Case studies and role-playing scenarios are designed to stimulate discussions. Discrete sections can be used on their own to help them slot into the curriculum.

The pack begins by exploring the differences between rules and laws, with worksheets showing how rules can protect rights and how with rights come responsibilities.

Teachers' notes summarise the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, while overhead projector material expands on rights and responsibilities.

The section on law and order examines the procedures that come into force when someone breaks the law. It encourages pupils to think about issues of law and order, explains law enforcement (by Customs and Excise and sheriff officers, for example) and refers to other cultures and laws such as the place of polygamy in Islam and the right to bear arms in the United States.

Under a section on courts, worksheets explore the differences between criminal and civil law. Pupils learn how criminal and civil courts work by looking at case studies in which, for example, they are asked to take on the role of a sheriff in a particular case.

"You and the Law" outlines the agencies which provide advice and help in matters relating to both criminal and civil law and how the law differs for under-16s. Children's hearings are dealt with as is the law and drugs.

The pack also provides contact addresses and phone numbers for the Scottish Child Law Centre, the Scottish Office, Childline, Family Mediation Scotland (which works with families who are separated or are having problems), Young People Speak Out (which does video work with disaffected youngsters to foster self-esteem) and Fast Forward (who operate a drugs awareness education programme).

"Young Citizens and the Law", (Pounds 25), is available from the Publications unit, City of Edinburgh education department.

Raymond Ross

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