On the morning of Saturday 18th March 2017, a team of Year 9 Presdales students, arrived at Stevenage Magistrates’ Court to compete in this year’s local heat of the Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition. They came second place, out of three schools, only a few points behind first.
The Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition is organised by the Citizenship Foundation, an independent charity which helps young people to engage with their community through education. Furthermore, the competition is part of a project to develop legal education at schools nationwide. This quote, by the Citizenship Foundation, is a description of what happens: “The competition involves a team of students taking on the roles of magistrates, lawyers, witnesses and court staff to prepare a specially written case. Schools compete against each other in a live format at a real magistrates’ court.”
Our co-ordinating teacher, Miss. Bray promoted the competition last year – we all signed up with only a vague idea of the competition. The case was given to us in January and the following two months we were busy in preparation for the court appearance in March. The charge for this case goes as following: “On Thursday 19th January 2017, at Westwich in the county of Southshire, Bek Lejohn entered a domestic dwelling, being 22 Cool Road, Westwich, and stole goods therein, namely a PlayStation 4 to the value of £260, contrary to Section 9 of the Theft Act 1968”. Not only did we have Miss Bray’s invaluable support but also Mr Rowley’s – an experienced Magistrate – tips, tricks and helpful information about the Court, the format and how the legal system works in real life.
First, we chose our roles: a magistrate, lawyer, witness, legal advisor and usher. Students who wanted to be lawyers had a special audition. From then on, we all met afterschool on Thursdays and on Friday lunchtimes. The lawyers worked hard to write speeches, questions, and answers; the witnesses, legal advisor and usher had practised continuously to get their statements memorised. Our roles gave us an overview of the various legal professions and what they were about. This experience helped us to familiarise ourselves first-hand with courtroom etiquette and behaviour and have a great legal experience at a young age, teaching us skills and attitudes that we would take with us further into our learning careers. Along the process of revising the case, we learnt more about the legal system – for example, the difference between civil and criminal law. Furthermore, we practised crucial life skills, such as public speaking, that are very helpful in the future. In addition, there was a visit to Stevenage Magistrates’ Court in February, organised by Miss Bray and guided by Mr. Rowley.
On the day, we all couldn’t wait to begin the trials. As there were three schools competing instead of four, the running order was slightly different; Presdales was prosecuting first, sitting out during the second trial and then defending last. Our first trial started brilliantly, with a declamatory and crisp opening speech. There were amazing questions and answers in both the Examination-In-Chiefs and Cross Examinations. All students had clear and confident voices, allowing them to be properly heard. Though Bek was proved not guilty, the prosecution team had definitely impressed us all. Presdales was not competing in the second trial, which meant we had time to reflect on the first trial, and to practise for the next. The defence team also had a great performance, with creative, clever responses to questions raised in the Cross Examinations, and an articulate, impressive closing speech. The defence successfully were able to prove Bek not guilty. Although we weren’t given first place, we were given second place, which is also an achievement. The certificate we received in the end will always be a great reminder.
Overall, the Presdales team’s strong performance was the result of everyone’s tremendous effort. Therefore, I would like to say a huge thank you, on behalf of my team, to Miss Bray and Mr Rowley for sharing their knowledge and helping us create spectacular arguments for both sides of the case. And we can’t forget about the ones who allowed us to participate in the first place – another thank you goes out to the parents! Finally, we are very grateful to the Citizenship Foundation for providing an opportunity to learn more about the legal system and to acquire important life skills. We have completed a valuable, educational and enjoyable experience, and it has brought us many memories.
Saidhriti Siddantham and Ayesha Unadkat (Year 9)
Ayesha Unadkat, Year 9, writes about her experience of the Mock Trial:
Particularly, the event helped us to become familiar with the sequence of events and setup/positioning of a conventional court trial. I believe that this event was very worthwhile as it gave us a flavour of various roles in the legal profession as well as showing us a range of styles of putting forward arguments and responses, a transferable and important skill.
Personally, the experience of collecting up evidence from the case study, being able to form and alter an argument, conclude a case and think on the spot were very prominent and transferable skills I practised as a defence lawyer in the competition. In my opinion, this trip provided a very insightful view into the world of law and formed a great foundation and experience for those considering taking up law as a career in the future. It has most definitely inspired me to go into the legal profession and to take advantage of all the possibilities that may come my way. The event motivated us to be confident, do the best we could and keep calm in particularly nerve-wracking situations. Our performance was practised and perfected in our weekly rehearsals and we were all able to work together and take on constructive criticism. This really helped me when I was writing my examinations, cross-examinations and closing speech that I would present when representing our school. I write on behalf of the whole team in saying that we found this event very informative and inspiring for those considering a legal future. I was very happy to see the amount of enthusiasm of our peers to work together and do our best as a team. On behalf of the Presdales Mock Trial Team, who were given the amazing opportunity to attend this event, we would like to say a big thank you to the court staff and competition judges and of course, our teachers, Miss Bray and Mr Rowley, for organising and helping prepare for a very educational and beneficial day.