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24 March, 2014

Belfast school wins courtroom competition in front of the Shadow Attorney General and some of the UK's top judges

If you think young people don't care about the law, you should have been in Cardiff Crown Court on Saturday. 250 school students from across the UK put their newly-acquired knowledge of the justice system to the test, fighting criminal trials against each other in a bid to win the Bar National Mock Trial Competition 2014.

A student from Aquinas School putting the case in the Bar National Mock Trial Competition final 

Young people from all walks of life and from all types of schools across the UK take part in this prestigious competition, which is in its 23rd year.

But, out of 166 schools that have been competing since the autumn, there can only be one winner: and this year's winner is Aquinas School, Belfast (pictured). The runner-up is Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Girls.

Although some youngsters might use the competition as experience for a profession in law, all of them get a valuable insight into the workings of the legal system. Too many people are kept ignorant about how the law works until they fall foul of it; this competition meets that challenge head-on.

Mark Mulholland QC, Chairman of the Bar Council Northern Ireland, summed it up in this wish:

'To give everyone the opportunity to do what the children in this competition get to do, and that is to see the justice system up on a very personal basis, and to understand and appreciate that the rules and the values that go with that are fundamentally important.

'But also the people that administer that - whether it be the solicitors, the barristers, the court staff, the judges - are human beings as well; and that what we try to achieve is justice, is fairness, is impartiality: that people can have confidence in the justice system, which, throughout the United Kingdom - and in fact worldwide - is held in the highest regard.'

Teachers agree that it is important to learn about the law in school. ‘It is important for so many reasons, and often for very different reasons,' says Ann Flanigan from The Boswells School in Chelmsford. 'Our students, coming from a large mixed comprehensive, often know very little about the law etcetera. [This competition] provides a real insight that many would not get'.

It's 'the cornerstone of our democracy,' says Lynda Swanson of Glasgow's Mackie Academy. 'To understand the legal process, role of jury etcetera is important to know as a citizen of the UK'.

Although there can only be one winner, all of the finalists in Cardiff on Saturday were outstanding, and many had come a long way since the start of the competition. They were: Alcester Grammar School (West Midlands); Alton College (Hampshire); The Becket School (Nottingham); The Boswells Academy (Chelmsford, Essex); Dalriada School (Ballymoney); Mackie Academy (Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire); North Halifax Grammar School (West Yorkshire); QE Academy (Plymouth, Devon); Queen Mary's College (Basingstoke, Hampshire); St Alban's RC High School (Pontypool, Torfaen); St Peter's Catholic Comprehensive (Bournemouth, Dorset); Spalding High School (Spalding, Lincolnshire); Upton Hall School FCJ (Upton, Merseyside); Wilmslow High School (Cheshire); Wirral Grammar School for Girls (Merseyside).

The final was judged by the Recorder of Cardiff Her Honour Judge Eleri Rees, Chair of the Bar Council Northern Ireland Mark Mulholland QC, former Bar Council Chairman Stephen Hockman QC, Lord Justice of Appeal Lord Justice Clarke, and crossbench Peer, Dulwich College Chair of Governors and former Principle Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Lord Turnbull.

Prizes were awarded by Shadow Attorney General and Islington MP Emily Thornberry, and South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner and former MP Alun Michael.

The Bar National Mock Trial Competition is run by the Citizenship Foundation and funded by the Bar (through the Bar Council, the Faculty of Advocates, the Bar Library of Northern Ireland, the Inns of Court and the Circuits) and is in its 23rd year.

It involves 2,000 students in years 10 to 13, 300 barristers and advocates and 90 judges.

Aquinas School, the winning team of the Bar National Mock Trial Competition 2014.
A winning team: Aquinas School in Cardiff Crown Court.
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