Legal literacy is the ability to understand the words used in the legal context and to access rights in the justice system.19 Most people, literate or not, don’t understand even the simplest legal expressions.20
Legal language is very structured with very specific meanings and concepts. Even if people with low literacy have found a way to cope with their daily routine, they find it very difficult to read, understand, and use material related to legal problems. They do not understand the concepts contained in the words, even if they understand the words themselves. Therefore, they cannot understand what is expected of them and often the implications of what is being said.
The John Howard Society of Canada did a thorough study of inmates’ literacy levels. The survey showed that 70 per cent had literacy levels below grade 8 and that 88 per cent fell below the grade 10 level.21 The courts’ lack of understanding about low literacy can
In their report, the Canadian Bar Association said it “was struck by the simple but profound awareness that the legal system is based entirely on the written word. If you have trouble with the act of reading, it may not be possible to work through the system.”23
19. Canadian Bar Association, Reading the Legal World,
20. Lawyers for Literacy, Communicating Clearly.
21. Susan Goldberg, Literacy in the Courtroom, p. 7.
22. Susan Goldberg, Literacy in the Courtroom, pp. 12–13.
23. Canadian Bar Association, Reading the Legal World, p. 23.