For most youngsters aspiring to a law career their perception of a courtroom might come from TV dramas or films.
But each year hundreds of schoolchildren get the chance to sample the wheels of justice by conducting mock trials in real courtrooms before high-profile judges.
In the School Mock Court Case Project pupils act as solicitors, witnesses, journalists and other professionals in a fictional legal battle.
This week a team from Auchmuty High School, in Glenrothes, played defenders in this year’s final.
They contested a compensation claim from victors Prestwick Academy involving a ‘victim’ who lost his wife and his leg in a fatal car crash.
Presiding over a panel of judges was Supreme Court judge Lord Brailsford, and awards were presented by Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk.
Normally the action would have been played out in the impressive surroundings of a courtroom such as Edinburgh’s Court of Session, but due to the pandemic it was conducted online.
Each year around 100 schools and 3,000 students take part in 18 different projects run by the School Mock Court Case Project.
Also participating this year was Grove Academy, Dundee, and previous winners have included the High School of Dundee and Kirkcaldy High School.
Weeks of preparation, including tutorials with solicitors, go into preparing teams’ cases, during which they learn skills including communication and team work as well as about Scotland’s legal system and other professions, such as policing and journalism.
We found out more about the Edinburgh-based project from those involved.
Four teams from Auchmuty High School took part, with S5 pupils Emily Murdoch, Ella Woodburn, Codi Hay and Tegan Banks making it to the final.
Codi said: “As a team we feel mock court has been an amazing opportunity and opened up so much doors for us all.”
Aspiring lawyer Emily said: “Mock court has given me an opportunity like no other to gain an insight into this career and confirm that my aspirations in this field are definitely the right decision for me.”
Auchmuty High School modern studies teacher Erin Jackson said the pupils set up a base in a classroom where they mapped out their defence strategy during weekly tutorials with solicitor Katie Anderson.
She said: “They’ve had to research everything, go through all their evidence.
“They were given different roles, some acted as witnesses, some of them writers producing press releases, some were solicitors.
“They took it on as it if was a real court case.”
This year was the first the Glenrothes school had entered the competition and she said the finalists had excelled.
She said: “They’re an amazing group of girls, very confident. I’m not surprised they have done well, they are very bright kids and they are good at public speaking.”
School Mock Court Case project chairman Gerald Murphy said the experience gave young people a glimpse into the careers of journalists, medics, police officers and other professionals, as well as lawyers.
He said: “The programme this year, for example, brings in medicine and forensics, the fire service and others.
“Children who are interested in other disciplines, who want that experience, can get it through the programme by portraying witnesses.”
Taking part, he said, taught youngsters to articulate themselves, even encouraging some to be brave enough to challenge opinions of presiding sheriffs.
He said: “For the juniors and seniors it’s very, very real.
They’ve been working on their case for months and they’re representing themselves, their team, their school and even their local authority, and they do take it very seriously.”
Gerald Murphy, Schools Mock Court Case Project chairman
“They’ve been working on their case for months and they’re representing themselves, their team, their school and even their local authority, and they do take it very seriously.
“Some of the arguments put forward are incredible, especially at that age, as they don’t have the inhibitions us old folk have.
“They have an imagination and they go in different directions.”
In building their case, he said, students have reams of paperwork to sift through, including legislation and witness statements, with the odd red herring thrown in.
Previous participants have kept in touch and Gerald said: “We’ve seen some of our rising stars do extremely well and that’s gratifying to see.”
Lord Brailsford said he was full of admiration for the pupils involved and their presentations were “excellent”.
He said: “The teams have done particularly well having to perform in these very artificial atmospheres we all have to work in now.”
Lady Dorrian said: “The experience is one which is really invaluable for helping with communication skills, building confidence and learning how to work as a team.”
She told the finalists: “I’m quite sure I’ll be seeing you in my court one day.”