Lessons in Law!

Since January I’ve been lucky enough to spend my Friday afternoons back in the classroom. Tenbury High School was preparing to take part in the national Magistrates Court Mock Trial competition and I’d been asked to lend a hand. The first time I went to meet Mrs Loupart and the fifteen or so Year 8 and 9 students who were taking part, I was nervous I’ll admit. I thought the kids would be wholly disinterested in fuddy duddy criminal law. How would I make it seem interesting and relevant to them? It turns out I need not have worried.

As soon as I got there they were full of questions and were genuinely interested in the law, the procedure, and the history. And as the weeks went by, their legal arguments went from strength to strength, they always had questions to ask about leading witnesses, the court procedure, case law or everything and anything! I was impressed by how committed they were to the case and how much effort they must have been putting in outside of school to hone their arguments, their characters and their understanding. I had a classroom full of “protégés” if you will!

There were times when we were in fits of laughter after witnesses dumbfounded the lawyers, and the other way around. Even more so when the lawyers managed to dumbfound the Magistrates and themselves! The most important thing is that they all enjoyed themselves. It made a subject which can be (let’s admit it) dry, uninteresting and difficult to grasp, fun and enjoyable and they wanted to know more about it. As clichéd as it sounds, it made learning about the law fun!

Lucy Small and I were lucky enough to be able to go to the actual competition at Worcester Magistrates Court. The first school we were against had elected a particularly fierce and confident young girl as their first defence lawyer which momentarily threw our prosecutors and witnesses but they came back with well thought out arguments and retorts. One of our prosecutors had only had a day or two to prepare after another student had pulled out but you wouldn’t have known that listening to her question the witnesses. The Defendant was found not guilty by the Magistrates. But the kids from Tenbury didn’t seem to mind. They were buzzing after their excellent first attempt and looking forward to the second. Our newly instructed prosecutor even told me that originally she didn’t think she would enjoy it but she loved it and was so pleased to have been given the opportunity to do it.

In the second trial Tenbury were defending. Our poor Defendant, accurately portrayed as an innocent (although drunk) altruist caught in the wrong place at the wrong time by one of our troop, was in the stand. Unbeknown to us, Liaison Judge His Honour Robert Juckes, had snuck into the back of the courtroom to see the competition in action too. Our defence team did us proud and the Magistrates returned a verdict of not guilty. The kids couldn’t have been happier and every one of us walked out of the courtroom smiling.

We waited with baited breath in the main hall in the imposing Crown Court building for the winners to be announced. Sadly (and unjustly in my opinion!) Tenbury didn’t win. We hadn’t come up against the winners but I’m sure if we had of the Tenbury kids would have given them a run for their money. The prizes were awarded by His Honour Judge Robert Juckes who told of his favourite moment of the day. He had slipped into a courtroom during the competition and had seen a Defendant give evidence; when she was asked how drunk she was, she replied “Well I wasn’t lying on the floor in my own sick!” And that line, I can proudly award to our Defendant from Tenbury! So, we may not have won but we gave a seasoned Judge a good laugh! The kids went away that day deservedly proud of themselves after a long but rewarding day in court.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the lovely students I had the pleasure to work with, you all worked so hard! And, also many thanks to the lovely Mrs Loupart for making us feel so welcome in your classroom.