Lord Justice Leveson and TV's Judge Rinder join forces to promote public legal education
He took on the might of the media and made recommendations that may well change the face of our justice system. Now, Lord Justice Leveson will sit in judgement of school students from all backgrounds across the UK as they put their legal knowledge to the test at the Citizenship Foundation's Bar Mock Trial final in Edinburgh tomorrow.
'Mock trials' they may be, but these are no moots: the young people are not being groomed for the legal profession, though some may choose that path. These mock trials aim at nothing less than preparing them for life in the UK.
Some 2,000 secondary school students, 300 barristers and advocates and 90 judges from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been involved in this year’s competition. But just 270 students from 18 schools can get through to the final, and only one of those teams can win.
For the chance to clinch the coveted title of 'winner', they must travel to Edinburgh tomorrow (Saturday 28 March) to prosecute and defend cases on suspected theft and drug possession. And they must do so at the Edinburgh Court of Session, in front of the likes of Lord Justice Leveson.
For many, this mock trial competition is their first, positive contact with the legal system that governs their lives. It helps them understand the purpose of law - and the impact it has on people - before they're on the wrong side of it. It is challenging and fun too, and it goes a long way to making the justice system relevant to them.
'Thanks to [this competition] I have developed a profound and very unexpected respect for the UK legal system. The experience has driven me to now pursue a career in the law whereas before I had always thought I’d be on the receiving end of a court case. Thanks for this new perspective.”
Sherwin, 15, Walthamstow Academy
Lord Justice Leveson is clear about the importance of schemes like this:
'The justice system is a central part of our democracy and it is critical that we, as a society, do all we can to increase public awareness of what judges do and how we do it: after all, the judiciary acts on behalf of the public. The Citizenship Foundation's mock trial competitions not only show young people how the courts work but also help them develop extremely valuable powers of analysis and presentation.
'This type of public legal education is vital in developing our young and encouraging them to be effective citizens in the society that they will shape.’
And he's not the only legal celebrity joining us on Saturday.
ITV's 'Judge' Robert Rinder will swap his studio courtroom for the real thing when he takes to the bench to round off the day and hand out prizes.
'If everyone was the perfect, informed citizen then we wouldn't need a justice system and, as a barrister, I'd be out of a job,' he says.
'But, seriously, just imagine if all jurors were given this experience! Justice in this country would be so much stronger and more democratic. Experiences like this competition are an important and wonderful way for young people to get to grips with how our country works.'
And although the intention is not to groom lawyers, many participants do find the competition so inspiring that they choose law as their vocation.
Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar, said:
'The Bar Council supports this competition because it helps young people to understand important issues surrounding citizenship and the justice system. It could also be the catalyst for planting the seed for a career at the Bar and potentially the judiciary. Past competitors have gone on to become barristers, solicitors and law or citizenship teachers as a result of the experience'.
Sufiya Patel, Mock Trials Project Manager at the Citizenship Foundation, said:
‘We have a general election coming up and the MPs that get elected will shape our legal system by choosing to pass legislation or not. We know from recent research at UCL that young people are much more likely to vote if they have been exposed to citizenship education, for example, through programmes such as the Bar Mock Trials. Maybe people would be questioning their MPs about what is happening in the justice system if they were legally aware.’
The finalist schools of the Bar Mock Trial Competition 2014/15:
- Alton College (Alton, Hampshire)
- Coleraine High School (Coleraine, Co Londonderry)
- Enfield County School (Enfield, North London)
- Greenhead College (Huddersfield, Yorkshire)
- Gumley House RC Convent School, FCJ (Hounslow, West London)
- John Hampden Grammar School (High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire)
- Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School (Grantham, Lincolnshire)
- Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School (Lancaster, Lancashire)
- Mackie Academy (Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire)
- Plymouth High School for Girls (Plymouth, Devon)
- Royal Latin School (Buckingham, Buckinghamshire))
- St Alban's RC High School (Pontypool, Torfaen)
- St Bede’s Catholic Comprehensive School (Peterlee, County Durham)
- The Boswells School (Chelmsford, Essex)
- The Sixth Form College (Farnborough, Hampshire)
- The Steiner Academy Hereford (Much Dewford, Herefordshire)
- Wilmslow High School (Wilmslow, Cheshire)
- Wirral Grammar School for Girls (Wirral, Merseyside).
Judges for the day:
- Rt Hon Lord Justice Davis
- Rt Hon Lord Justice Leveson
- The Hon Lady Rita Rae
- Mr Herbert Kerrigan QC
- Mr Murdo McLeod QC
- Mr Brian McConnachie QC
- Mr Mark Mulholland QC
- Mr Andrew O’Byrne QC
- Mr James Wolffe QC
- Sheriff I Miller
- Sheriff B Mohan
- Sheriff S Pattison.
Bar Council Press Office: 020 7222 2525 and Press[at]BarCouncil.org.uk.
Michael Grimes, Online Communications Manager, Citizenship Foundation; 07939 563734 and michael.grimes[at]citizenshipfoundation.org.uk