What is Court Education?

Court education is about learning and engaging with courts as part of our legal system, to better understand its function and their role in interacting with it and helping to shape its future. 

Members of the public have a more positive view of the court system and its integrity, if they have more knowledge about that system – Professor Donald Burnett in Civic Education: The Rule of Law and the Judiciary

Court education can be defined as formal and informal education experiences, predominantly for young people, that occur within a court building or are concerned with the operation of courts.

However, court education can also encompass experiences that occur outside the confines of the courtroom and includes school and university classrooms, online digital portals, community spaces such as libraries and other legal institutions.

The pedagogy of court education predominantly involves the provision and delivery of formal education programs. These teach students about the operation of a key civic institution, the court, and its personnel and daily operation as part of the fabric of a formal legal system.

Fundamental to the desired outcome of these programs is: building an enhanced understanding of the intersection between citizens and the legal system, and how it assists to solve problems and enforce social norms of conduct.

Learn more about individual court education programs in Australia on our links page

Court Education vs Public Legal Education?

Court education and public legal education are one and the same in wanting to improve understanding of the legal system but can differ in their intended audience.

Court education programs in Australia have a particular focus on young people whilst they are attending a school or university. This is largely due to a combination of curriculum requirements, undertaking legal studies subjects or, as part of a tertiary degree in law or related professional qualification. Many courts have conducted education programs – informal and formal over a number of years with some being managed and conducted by the judiciary.

Public legal education often has a broader audience and can include people who require assistance in interacting directly with courts. Programs provided by Australian community legal centres and other not-for-profit organisations include support for self-represented litigants, and specific community groups such as new migrants.

State and Federal education departments and their associated curriculum bodies have been tasked with incorporating civic education and outreach into their syllabuses in line with the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration 2019.

This recent update to the 2008 Melbourne Declaration states as a goal that young Australians are supported to become:

Active and informed members of the community who are committed to national values of democracy, equity and justice, and participate in Australia’s civic life by connecting with their community and contributing to local and national conversations

The ACARA National Civics and Citizenship Curriculum and the associated state curricula seek to embed the above in Australian schools from years four to ten. 

Why Does Court Education Matter?

Chief Justice Roberts of the US Supreme Court in his 2019 year end report said the following:

Civic education, like all education, is a continuing enterprise and conversation. Each generation has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it.

Engagement by schools students with civic institutions and the legal system over the course of their schooling has been shown to have positive effects on both the individual student, their families and communities. This leads to young people who are better equipped to serve on juries, assist vulnerable members of their communities when they have legal problems and actively support access to justice. Students and their teachers who participate in the programs are able to share their insights with community members, which can lead to improved understanding of the positive role of courts and the judiciary in upholding a fair and equitable legal system.

For further discussion of the importance of court education in Australia, read a paper the author co-wrote for LexisNexis’ Advancing Together journal.

Who are Court Educators?

Court educators are teachers, facilitators and program designers employed by courts, associated government departments and external not-for-profit organisations across Australia. Court educators work in small teams, often only with one or two full or part time staff. Program delivery in and out of court buildings is conducted by teachers, court staff, judiciary, legal professionals, community volunteers and/or university law students. Many court educators have either a law or teaching background and all have a passion for sharing their knowledge about the operation of courts and the legal system with young people.

The Churchill Court Education Project

The Churchill Fellowship Court Education Projectt hopes to support and empower court educators by raising the profile of their important work and providing resources and professional development opportunities.

The goal of the project is to create an evidence based best practice guide for Australian court educators and teachers after conducting:

…research [into] how common-law courts and civic institutions across the Commonwealth design and deliver court education programs for young people from primary to high school with a focus on how they support the learning and engagement of disadvantaged, indigenous, regional and remote, and culturally and linguistically diverse school students.

The project and its output will assist individual court educators working within state, territory and federal jurisdictions to improve their program design and delivery. It will facilitate nation-wide professional collaboration between court educators, creating an ongoing dialogue and opportunity to research the long term community benefits of court education programs.