ASPIRING lawyers raised the bar when it came to a mock trial competition on Saturday as over 100 students battled it out to try and defeat their opponent’s arguments in front of magistrates.
The Wiltshire heat of the national Magistrates Court Schools Mock Trial competition saw eight schools come together at Chippenham Law Courts where groups of students took on the roles of lawyers, witnesses, magistrates, court staff and even defendants in a role play scenario in which the defendant was accused of burglary.
Students from Commonweal, Ridgeway School and Highworth Warneford School took part in the popular competition which is run by the Citizenship Foundation in partnership with the Magistrates’ Association.
Joel Koniarski, politics teacher at Ridgeway School brought along Year 9 students to the competition. He said: “We did it two years ago and we thought it would be good to come back and take park. It is massively important for the students in terms of public speaking and building their confidence.
“We don’t get to study the legal system and it’s great that they take part and then take what they’ve learnt back to school to tell their teachers and fellow students.
“We still have students who took part two years ago coming back to us saying that they were so inspired by the day that they want to become a lawyer or volunteer at the magistrates court."
The competition aims to teach students about all aspects of the criminal justice system - the law, procedures, consequences and the staff – and to develop confidence in personal skills such as public speaking, analysis techniques and working as a team.
Wiltshire magistrates have been helping the teams prepare by giving information on the everyday workings of magistrates’ courts and hosting court visits.
Over 50 heats are taking place nationwide over the next two weeks and Sir David Hempleman-Adams, High Sheriff of Wiltshire, opened the Wiltshire heat over the weekend.
The competition was the first time that Year 8 and 9 students from Commonweal School had taken part with the help of eager sixth formers.
Matthew Parry teacher of law and politics said: “The competition is very important and we have some very able students here as well as some very hard working sixth form students who wanted to assist the younger students with the trial.
“They are coming together to work in teams to find out about the court system because many will have never been to court before and so by coming here they are getting the understanding of what it would be like in real life.”
One of the organisers, Martyn Cook, said he was thrilled at how the day turned out. He added: “We ran the competition a few years ago and had a break but then we brought it back in 2015 which was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
“There are three rules in the Magna Carta that still apply today and one is the right to a fair trial for everyone. With that in mind, we decided to bring the competition back with the help of the former High Sheriff Lady Gooch who was keen for us to get it going again.
“By coming to the court, the students have been able to see the impact of the law and it will be an eye opening experience for them but also their parents. A lot of people have never been in a court room before and they don’t know what happens or the processes that happen. This competition has good intentions even though it is role play because they can see what goes into a trial.”
Fairlands Middle School from Cheddar were crowned winners and were presented with The David Brewer Award in memory of David Brewer, the former Justices’ Clerk to Swindon Magistrates Court and Justices’ Clerk for Wiltshire. David Retired in 2011 and died of cancer in early 2016. Highworth Warnford School were crowned runners up and both schools will go forward to the regional finals in May before the prestigious national final in June.