The Birkbeck Law Society’s Mock Trial: March 2015
The Birkbeck Law Society tried the case of Regina V Starmer & Maul this weekend in a Mock Trial designed to get students thinking and acting like lawyers.
Walking in, I’m met by a series of suits wearing serious looks. Everyone’s attention is clearly captured by the case at hand; I can only assume that no one wants to miss a word the witness says, as cases (even those played out in a Birkbeck classroom) can be lost as a consequence of a lot less than a mistaken comment or forgotten detail. Mock trials are designed to give law students an opportunity to put the theories they learn in lectures into practice, and many of the day’s participants are first time attendees using models they will have only picked up this term.
(left-to-right front) Anthony Ambrose, Horaine Palmer, Eduardo Fazio Escobar, Glen Spiro, Emil Singh, Tom Noble
(back) Edward Bowen, Paul Tracey
The Birkbeck Law Society arranges events such as this one to create a space where students can feel comfortable presenting new arguments and perfecting techniques with peer encouragement. Watching the proceedings, it is clear that many of the lawyers display an impressive level of confidence, which conceals from me that they’d had just over an hour to familiarise themselves with the nature and facts of this case.
Left to right: (Judge) Tony Halliday, (Defendant) Lord Warner, (Observer)
The crown is making its case against defendants “Starmer & Maul” who have, allegedly, committed a robbery (a Samsung S3 & £10 have been stolen!). Judge Tony Halliday presides over the proceedings with a carefully constructed blend of judicial sharpness and constructive criticism. This formal but forgiving format pushes the lawyers into applying their learning and curbing bad habits. All of this is being played out so seriously that I am almost shocked when one (slightly underprepared) witness asks for “a moment to compose myself” and everyone, including Judge Halliday, totally loses their cool and laughs heartily.
As I watch each witness give their statements, it becomes apparent to me that the lawyers are being taught more intricate messages as they go, including structural differences in question styles (the examination in chief should make open queries that provide the opportunity for your witness to express their opinions and get the jury onside, while the cross examiners fire tighter, pointed questions that lead the witness to where you want them, curtailing any elaborations), as well how to stand and where to focus. Overall, there is a demonstration that there are as many lessons to be learned on courtroom etiquette and presentation as there are on points of law.
Defence Team (left to right): Anthony Ambrose, xx, Eduardo Fazio Escobar
By closing arguments I am not sure exactly which way the jury is leaning: everyone’s arguments are strong (well, except for the policeman that “couldn’t be certain” of anything). Yet I soon realise that the prosecution’s clever summary, filled with facts, is no match for old fashioned flattery and a good “burden of proof” argument. The defence puts on a performance that I can see is appealing straight to the jury’s sensibilities (and ego), and perhaps the last lesson I’ll take from today is that it’s difficult to beat strong eye contact and sweet talk, even in the court room.
Prosecution Team (left to right): Glen Spiro, Emil Singh, Tom Noble
In most mock trials the jury provides a verdict (not guilty, if you were wondering…) but the competition is won by the team of lawyers that impresses the judge in various ways including: the way they deliver arguments, cross examine, & even how they compose themselves throughout the trial. In this case, the prosecution (allowing for handicaps) won the judge’s approval, and even my limited understanding of the law could see that first year Tom Noble was “lawyer of the day”. However, judge Halliday complimented everyone on their performance, stating that, most importantly, everyone made marked improvements as they settled into their roles and built their cases.
All in all it was very clear that the Law Society had put time and effort into creating a fit-for-purpose, accessible event that supported Law students, and honestly the only disappointment for me was that there wasn’t a legal wig in sight!
By Hana Faber