“Do you plead guilty or not guilty?”
So began Case 1 in which 15 Ballakermeen Year 12 girls took on the roles of barrister, court officials, witness and jury member at Chester Crown Court, on Saturday 23 November, 2019.
This Young Citizens’ sponsored Bar Mock Trial competition aims to provide students aged 15-18 with a greater understanding of the law, whilst developing critical thinking and public speaking and other life skills. Students participating on the day performed their roles before actual Chester Crown Court judges, who gave their time on a Saturday in support of this extremely worthwhile experience.
When an impressive 24 Year 12s turned up to the first meeting of the advertised competition we had to arrange a selection process to determine the 15 who would make up the team. The team then spent 10 weeks learning and honing their parts and rehearsing exchanges in order to prepare for whatever was to come their way in the actual competition. Being too well rehearsed is not advised when you are to face other school teams who will offer alternative interpretations of how to approach the evidence.
We owe a great debt of gratitude for the time and support given by Alexander Armstrong of Callin Wild and Josh Quinn of M & P Legal who set aside busy schedules to attend after-school meetings and offer their experience and advice to the girls. Without Alex and Josh’s insight and advice our students would not have been nearly so well prepared and confident in their performances.
Arriving at the court, accompanied by Mr Withington and Mrs Evans, students experienced airport-style security checks, before seeing for the first time the grandeur of Court 1, a courtroom in which one team was to prosecute Case 1. Others in the group prosecuted Case 2 or defended Case 1 before the adjudications.
Our defence of Case 2 was made in Chester’s Court 2, the infamous stage of the 1966 Moors Murders trial; as such our ‘defendant’, ably played by Leonie Crowther, sat in the same bullet-proofed dock as had Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. A sobering experience, indeed.
Case 1 concerned an allegation of possessing cocaine with intent to supply. Case 2 focused on an alleged attack of one person on another, whilst both were the worse for drink and with neither having a clear recollection of events.
The Ballakermeen students acquitted themselves very well, as the summing up in each round testified. Although they did not reach the finals, everyone agreed that the experience was invaluable and they were very glad to have had such a privileged opportunity to be involved.
“This experience has given me an insight into the work of a barrister and exactly how a court room operates.” Tara Alton.
“It was such a good experience, especially standing up and talking infront of people we’d never met before.” Feena Wilson.
“The dedication and enthusiasm the students brought to rehearsals more than paid off in their presentation of their respective roles. This has been an excellent experience for them in so many ways, not least in providing a first-hand insight into law.” Paul Withington (BHS Group Leader)