March was a busy month for us in the Mock Trials Team.
We spent the first three Saturdays travelling around the country observing the local heats of the Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition – I personally attended heats in Reading, Birmingham and Manchester. And on Saturday 23rd March, we were at the national final of the Bar National Mock Trial Competition, which took place in the magnificent Royal Courts of Justice.
As a relative newbie to the Mock Trials Team and Citizenship Foundation (or ‘CF’ as the veterans call it), all this traveling was a very useful way for me to get sense, first hand, of what it is like to run or take part in a mock trial. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet, greet and build crucial relationships with the teachers, magistrates, lawyers, judges and court officials without whom the competitions would not be possible.
‘Mock Trials March’ (don’t worry, I haven’t ever actually called it that) has also given me some deeper insights into the value of the Mock Trial Competitions and how they fit in with the work of the Citizenship Foundation more generally.
One of the most obvious things I have learned from seeing the competitions up close and personal is just how much the students get from participating.
The principle aim of the competitions is to educate young people about the workings of the UK legal system and improve their confidence when it comes to navigating their way around it. This is for the simple reason that law pervades democratic life and so it is essential that individual citizens are able to engage with and understand the legal system.
The Magistrates’ and Bar Mock Trial Competitions give students the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to do this.
But watching students – some as young as 12 – stand up in court and articulate themselves clearly, think analytically and on their feet, and respond imaginatively and creatively to each other’s arguments, made me recognise that the students were also gaining invaluable confidence and life skills in other areas.
The Mock Trial Competitions are not only public legal education activities; they are enrichment activities too.
Another thing that the students get from participating is a certain kind of familiarity with courts of law, and ‘official’ settings more generally. Introducing young people to important civic spaces such as courts gives them a sense of these buildings’ place and purpose in wider society.
I spent three years studying in Manchester but, I’m slightly ashamed to say, only found out where the law courts are located when I visited the local heat of the Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition there in March. You might say that this is inevitable and desirable: inevitable in the sense that university students very often have only a superficial knowledge of the cities they study in; and desirable because it suggests I didn’t get in trouble with the law whilst a student.
But, however I explain my own ignorance to myself, it is simply not good enough for young people generally to have little to no knowledge of the important civic institutions in their community, or understanding of what these institutions are for and how they work. The Mock Trial Competitions help to address this.
Perhaps the most striking thing I have observed during ‘Mock Trails March’ is the level of volunteer support that goes in to making the Mock Trial Competitions happen.
Everywhere I went I encountered an army of volunteers who gave up their Saturday (and often much more) because they are passionate about ensuring that young people understand the legal system. The most important of these are the many Local Organisers who coordinate the local and regional heats of the Mock Trial Competitions around the country, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them all for their incredible hard work.
In fact, it is fitting that competitions designed to furnish young people with the knowledge, skills and understanding that they need to be active participants in society benefit greatly from, and in fact rely on, the contributions of already active citizens. If the Citizenship Foundation helps provide the knowledge, skills and understanding, then these local volunteers provide the example.