Students step up to the bar

A TEAM of RGS students were among the top young legal brains in the country taking part in a prestigious national mock trial final in Edinburgh.

More than 2,000 students from around 200 schools all over the UK entered the 28th annual Bar Mock Trial Competition, organised by the Young Citizens charity as a way of offering insight into the justice system.

After winning their regional heat in Leeds, RGS was one of just 24 schools offered the chance to try out the law against their peers in the magnificent setting of Parliament House, home of Scotland’s Supreme Courts.

Although the 14-strong sixth form team didn’t win the competition outright, they appreciated being able to experience the cut and thrust of advocacy in a realistic criminal trial.

Lizzie Chester, 17, explained: “The final took place in the Court of Session, Scotland's supreme civil court, and the building itself was much grander than the Crown Court at Leeds where we won our heat.”

Supplied with specially written cases, plus the wigs and gowns, they had to act out criminal trials in the real courtroom and before real legal professionals, including judges led by Lord Leveson, who chaired the public inquiry into the ethics of the British press.

They took the parts of prosecuting and defence lawyers, as well as witnesses, clerks, ushers and jurors in the competition, which is sponsored by the Bar Council.

Lizzie, from near Boroughbridge, described the trials they had to prepare for: “Our first case was one we had already presented in Leeds, an acid attack with an issue of mistaken identity and the other we received in the lead up to the final. This one concerned a student who had changed the grades of a fellow student by illegally obtaining access to the university system.

“In the weeks leading up to the event speeches and questions were written and then we had to present our cases in front of the judges,” she said.

The students, who were given advice by Leeds-based barrister Matthew Bean of KBW Chambers, all agreed that, although they didn’t win, it proved to be a valuable process, which taught them a lot about the legal justice system and advocacy skills.

“It helped us gain a better understanding of court proceedings and cement people's decisions to study law further in the future,” concluded Lizzie.

Rafaella Shiers, 17, agreed that it was worth all the commitment because of the skills it had helped them all build and develop: “It was an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The whole team developed confidence in legal reason, clear communication and teamwork: “I would highly recommend it for any young aspirational barristers or anyone even vaguely considering law as it gives you a real taste of the pressures of the courtroom,” said Rafaella, who is from Ripon.

She highlighted a particularly unmissable performance from Dominic Livesey in a heated cross-examination of a witness accused of unauthorised access to computer material.

“We also got the opportunity to be members of the jury on cases we were not prosecuting or defending in. This allowed us to size up the competition and see different points of view of the cases that we may before have missed.”

But the other 23 winning teams from across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were, she confessed, a force to be reckoned with.

Like Lizzie and Rafaella, Flora Manik, 16, from Boroughbridge, who played a witness in both cases, agreed that the Bar Mock Trial was extremely useful: “I would highly recommend it to younger students.’

Gordon Jackson QC commented on how impressive all the students in the Bar Mock Trial Competition were: “The standard of advocacy on display is always extremely high and it is wonderful to see the hard work and enthusiasm which the students bring to the event.”

The RGS team thanked those who had helped and supported them throughout the competition.

Lizzie said: “The Bar Mock trial team has thoroughly enjoyed the competition and would like to thank Mr Walker – who also organised for us to have a tour around the Scottish Parliament Building - for all his hard work in creating this opportunity for us and Mr Bean for his invaluable guidance throughout the process.

Rafaella added: “We are really grateful to Mr Bean for his excellent guidance, which helped us make it to Edinburgh, and a massive thankyou to Mr Walker and Mrs Locke for making us smile and laugh after rounds of not getting the verdict we wanted and for being our support system throughout the process.”