Background, initiator and participants
The initiator of the Constitutional Week, the Association Pro Memoriam Zbigniew Hołda, was founded by a group of legal specialists aiming to commemorate the scientific and social activity of professor Hołda through, among other things, delivering legal education in an open and creative way.
Objective: The Association aims to build common ground for consensus and cooperation among representatives of different legal professions. The objective of this public debate is to inform or educate people and encourage them to be proactive in public. This equips society with the tools to help make informed choices, while increasing the active participation of citizens in public life and contribute to the strengthening of civil society.
The Constitutional Week is a nationwide project that the Association has been organising since 2015.
At first, the project was addressed only to students of junior high schools and high schools, but since the 4th edition other institutions such as municipal offices, houses of culture as well as cafes, cinemas, depots and religious communities are invited to participate.
To date, 2,300 lawyers have conducted lessons on constitutional law in about 1,700 schools. It is estimated that approximately 170,000 students have attended the classes.
Practical cases of the influence of basic law are the subject of interactive lessons conducted by advocates, judges, prosecutors, academics and legal trainees.
In a wider perspective, the initiative can be seen as a way to communicate in society that the Constitution is not a collection of general rules that concerns only a narrow and hermetic group of those who apply the law, but obeying the law, obeying the Constitution, remains a matter of common interest.
Information about the Constitutional Week and the online registration form is published on the official website of the Association and disseminated using social media, primarily Facebook. Schools and other institutions can register via an online form indicating inter alia their location, number of students that will attend the constitutional lesson, and preferences for the timing of lessons. Lawyers can register in the same way and they are required to advise where, when and how many lessons they can conduct. Then the Association links the institution with the lawyer so that they may discuss the organisation of the lesson.
The lawyers who agreed to participate in the project are handed case studies prepared not only by the members of the Association, but also by the members of the Association of Young Journalists, which is an organisation aiming at engaging young people in activism and promoting human rights, and also by the students’ Scientific Association of Constitutional Law of the Warsaw University. The lecturers are instructed to speak in a simple language, adapted to the age of students. At the end of the lesson, students are asked to give a feedback to the lecturers.
The substantive supervision of the project is provided by eminent jurists. All the lawyers who agreed to participate in the project conduct lessons pro bono, and they do not receive reimbursement of travel expenses. A wide range of legal professionals are involved in conducting lessons during the Constitutional Week, including the deans of the District Chambers of Advocates, the Commissioner for Human Rights and other well-known lawyers or academics.
Notable features and lessons learned
The Constitutional Week demonstrates that public debate, which aims to inform and educate people and to encourage them to be proactive in public life, can be achieved with relatively modest financial resources.
The project demonstrates the power of social media, which, when used appropriately and targeted at the right group, may attract significant attention. The Association owes the success of the Constitutional Week to the fact that they have created a very positive atmosphere around the project using social media among other things.
The project, as any other, is not a perfect one. Despite opening it beyond educational institutions, schools remain the main participants. Moreover, the lawyers conducting lessons and schools are not required to send feedback to the Association which evaluates the project.
Despite of the differences of political opinions in society, the Constitutional Week proves that communication about fundamental values that are shared in a democratic society is possible, especially when we discuss these values in specific, clear cases that people can relate to.
One of the challenges facing the project’s organisers is to separate the political narrative from legal problems in order to refute allegations regarding the political nature of the event.