Fraser Coxhill reports from this year’s competition final.

On Saturday 28 March 2009 the normally hushed halls of the Central Criminal Court in London were taken over by more than 200 young people perfecting speeches, tactics and costumes. This was the final of the Bar National Mock Trial Competition run by the Citizenship Foundation in partnership with the Bar Council, Faculty of Advocates, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, the Inns of Court and the Circuits. The annual competition attracts 160 schools and 2,000 young people from all over the UK. It provides 15–18-year-olds from state secondary schools and further education colleges with an opportunity to experience the profession and helps to demystify the criminal justice system by allowing participants to play the roles of advocates, witnesses, jurors and court staff.

For the 16 finalists, the day represented the culmination of four months of hard work, beginning with the regional heats and then the final held at the Old Bailey itself. The teams competed in a round-robin event during which they presented two cases. Each case was presided over by a circuit judge or QC who included the leaders of the Northern, South Eastern and Western Circuits and the Chairman of the Bar, Desmond Browne QC.

North-eastern talent

The subject matter included dangerous driving and assault by a teacher on a student. The final was presided over by His Honour Judge Moss QC and watched by family members, teachers and volunteers in a packed Court 1. Twins (no, your eyes are not deceiving you), Ben and Dan Brown of Ponteland High School, Northumberland, represented the Crown and students from Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School represented the defendant. In the end, after a keenly fought contest, the twins were victorious and Ponteland High School became the 18th school to win the competition. His Honour Judge Moss QC noted the excellent standards of both teams—witnesses, clerks and ushers as well as counsel. Those on the North Eastern Circuit will also be interested to hear that this is the second successive year that the prize has gone to the winners of the Newcastle heat (last year’s winners were Whitley Bay High School). Clearly the North East is a hotbed of future Bar talent.

Standards of advocacy

I was truly astonished by the standard of advocacy on display, the depth of understanding of the subject matter and the time and effort that had clearly gone into the presentation of the cases. The students’ grasp of the burden and standard of proof was remarkable. One 15-year-old foreman said after returning a verdict of not guilty: “We suspect he probably was guilty but we could not be sure.” On that evidence, we are all in safe hands.

Fraser Coxhill is a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee and is a barrister at QEB Hollis Whiteman


Get involved

If you have been inspired to become involved in next year’s competition, through judging rounds, becoming a barrister adviser assisting schools in their preparation, or even lending your wig and gown to participants, email: jaheeda.subhan@citizenshipfoundation.org.uk.