THE LAW, according to Open University lecturer Carol Howells, is about “so much more than just lawyers”.

Yet because it is seen as complex, stuffy or out of reach, the law and its workings remain a mystery to most people unless they are forced to engage with it in some way.

While simple legal process such as buying a house are reasonably easy to navigate, others, such as asserting employment or consumer rights, are less so, with a general lack of knowledge often leading people to make decisions that are not necessarily in their best interests.

For Ms Howells that does not make sense: if we were all armed with an understanding of why laws exist, how they are used and how they apply to us, we would be better placed to make decisions that impact on our lives.

Which is why the Open University has launched an online course that looks specifically at how the law in Scotland has developed and how the public can get involved in shaping it in the future.

“We wanted to have something that introduces people to how law is made, why it is made in that way and the issues that might be involved in that,” Ms Howells said.

“We’ll also be looking at why we have courts and what their purpose is in the 21st century – why are we still using processes that have been in place since the 1500s? What’s the digital future?

“It’s about providing an understanding and also looking at legal skills, which can make a difference if you’re writing to challenge the local council about something or you are making a planning application.

“It’s about having the underlying knowledge that gives you the information to ask the right questions.”

Called ‘The Scottish Parliament and Law Making’, the course, which is divided into eight sections and is free to complete via the Open University’s OpenLearn platform, is being targeted at a number of different audiences.

In particular, students are expected to be anyone who has a general interest in law and law making, school pupils registered on the Open University’s Young Applicants in Schools Scheme, and people who would benefit from having an understanding of how the law works as part of their jobs.

“One market is people with a general interest in the law who want to know more about it but might be put off by standard legal textbooks,” Ms Howells said.

“Another market is providing a taste of degree study to people doing their school exams.

“They might want to do law at university but want a taste of independent learning before going there so they know what to expect – and to know if law is the right subject for them. We’ve got 200 students from that section.

“Another aspect is anybody who touches on law through their work – that might be a social worker, police officer, someone who works for the local council, a trustee of a charity or an MSP.”

While the course will neither look in depth at specific laws or provide legal advice, it is anticipated that it will help the latter group in particular when it comes to dealing with their legal needs.

This is because basic knowledge of the legal system would enable them to better target budgets at procuring specific legal advice rather than having to spend money determining what advice they need in the first place.

“This is about getting people to think about why we have laws and, when they go to seek legal advice, making them more knowledgeable in thinking about what they are seeking and why, and more informed about the advice they are given,” Ms Howells said.

Ultimately, though, the aim of the course, which will remain online indefinitely, is to bust some of the myths that persist about the legal system while presenting its workings in an accessible way.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about law and some people have it on a pedestal,” Ms Howells said.

“When people talk about innovation it tends to be about technology but we think there’s a need to redefine how some of these fundamental subjects are approached.

“It’s about renegotiating the understanding of the role of law in society and why it’s so fundamental.

“If you think about some of the reports of lawyers, law making and judges this is to remind people that this is why the law is there.”