UK: The School Mock Court Case Project

Last Updated: 28 February 2018
Article by Craig Dinnett

"Here's your wig, and your gown. You're presiding over court six, these are your cases."

"Sorry, my gown and my what?"

"Your wig."

Excellent – having not been blessed with a head fit for hats, a wig is the last thing I want to be wearing. At least it's just the kids in the court room.

"There are about 30 parents and teachers in there. So say a few words at the end about how proud you are of everyone that's taken part. Oh and remember to give your verdict. And put the witnesses on oath. And try not to leave anyone feeling like they've lost. You can wait in the Library with the other (real!) Sheriffs."

I really should have asked more questions before agreeing to this. Too late now though. In for a penny...

After weeks of hard work, grappling with a complex scenario, learning legal concepts and court room procedure, primary 6 and 7 pupils competing in the Schools Mock Court Case Project converged on Glasgow's Salt Market shortly before Christmas to pit their wits against each other in the formidable High Court.

The Mock Court Project sees pupils acting as either Pursuer or Defender in a fictional civil court action. This year the scenario saw an out of control house party, a garden ruined by a rampaging horse, windows smashed, carpets destroyed, a 'Ming' vase broken and the resulting insurance claim being disputed by the insurance provider. Credit card fraud, online security, insurance terms and conditions, concepts of blame, school bullies, horse riding, even the impact of wood rot on the structural integrity of a garden fence were just some of the things the kids could get their teeth into. The complexity of the scenario ensuring ample scope for a range of different approaches to the same question.

Before reaching the High Court, teachers and their pupils had invested many hours in the Project. Witness statements and questions had been written and rehearsed; presentation skills honed; gowns, wigs and witness costumes designed and made from scratch; and newspaper front pages created to document the story from first court appearance, through the trial to the verdict (in addition to providing a running commentary on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing's latest evictee in the case of the creative journalist in my own class). The variety of roles is matched by the skills that are developed through the process, which include: writing; problem solving; maths; arts; presentation skills; evaluating information and team work.

To help with the legal side of the scenario, each class is assigned an advisor – typically a trainee solicitor from a number of law firms that have signed up to support the Project. As the Project's main sponsor, Brodies LLP are heavily involved and each year several trainees sign up to help, with some committing to advising several classes.

Assistance from legally-minded volunteers is essential to add context to often vague legal concepts. It is also a chance to make positive impressions with young people, encouraging them to consider careers that they may previously have thought were out of reach.

Back in court it was my turn to confront my own challenging scenario. Having heard and watched the "lawyers" test their witnesses and the evidence, whilst wearing knitted neon wigs (take note Faculty of Advocates) and elaborate hand-made gowns that proved the reach of Harry Potter's wizarding world really knows no bounds, it was time for me to "decide the case in a way that leaves nobody feeling like they have lost". Sixty seconds later, having delivered a carefully crafted, easy to understand verdict, I felt I had done exactly what was asked...

"Does anyone have any questions for the Judge?"

"Who won?"

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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