by Mr. Bruce Maxwell
The two Grade 12 Law classes participated in mock trials this week. One class experienced firsthand a criminal case, while the other had a civil law case. Students took on the roles of lawyers and witnesses as they pertained to their individual cases. More specifically, the students researched similar cases to their own, prepared evidence, worked with their legal teams on strategies (often secretly and separately from the other student legal team), worked in partnership through examples (such as the lawyers preparing with their witnesses), delivered opening and closing statements, applied the theoretical knowledge from the in-class lessons, and interacted with alumni, SMUS parents or friends with legal backgrounds who came in and acted as judges for the day.
We had more than one judge for each trial to provide better support for the students’ learning. The judges provide a verdict at the end, discuss their own legal backgrounds, and then we recognize them for their willingness to be a part of the process.
I believe that studying law at such a young age is the greatest learning experience the students can have. It allows them to apply their theoretical legal knowledge, while working with their classmates in terms of promoting life skills all within the bubble of experiential learning. After all, if SMUS is a promoter of experiential learning – we need to demonstrate it.
The students will do mock trials again in May, and the nice thing about those ones is the students will have a better sense of what type of case they wish to do, or even if they would prefer to do a mock arbitration. Also, the students are strongly encouraged to adjust their roles for each of their trials so that they experience playing a lawyer and a witness by the end of the academic year.
by Becca Thomson, Grade 12 student
This past week, Mr. Maxwell’s two law classes ran mock trials in the SMUS chapel. The first case, the case I participated in, was decided Wednesday morning.
The case at hand was an alleged aggravated assault. Two theoretical Victoria students, Chris and Jerri (played by Lauren Gilmour and me), were playing baseball at Lansdowne Park, then headed towards McRae’s Bistro with a bat in hand. On the way, they encountered a classmate, Pat (Sasha Boehm), sitting on her porch holding a loaded gun. There was an altercation and Pat shot Chris in the thigh. Pat was accused of and charged with aggravated assault.
Students were split into a defence and a crown team, each of which had two designated witnesses. We followed official court procedure with opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and final submissions. Liam Dyson performed the role of court bailiff, swearing in the witnesses and cataloging evidence.
Mr. Maxwell brought in members of the SMUS community to act as our three qualified judges, including provincial court Judge Michael Hubbard and lawyer Malcolm Smith. Our own Director of Academics, Denise Lamarche was the third qualified judge. After all student presentations, the esteemed trio left the room to determine their verdict. (In the second mock trial on Friday, the judges were Mr. Hubbard, lawyer Jonathan Arnold, and our own Senior School Director Andy Rodford and chaplain Rev. Keven Fletcher.)
It was a close legal battle, but in the end Pat escaped the aggravated assault charge and was instead shackled with a fine and community service time for her illegal operation of an unregistered firearm. Judge Hubbard and Malcolm Smith gave us all positive feedback and tips on our respective roles, and shared some general professional advice.
Judge Hubbard, once a solicitor in England, loves his job here in B.C., but he will soon retire. Mr. Smith has worked in numerous areas of law around B.C. and his advice to the budding lawyers in our class was simply “be yourself.” According to Mr. Smith, a successful lawyer plays to their strengths. For example, if you’re more comfortable presenting in a serious style, you would do well to follow that inclination, rather than attempting to be humorous in court. Both professionals assured us that we were well ahead of the game, doing a mock trial in high school. Mr. Smith said that he didn’t get to participate in his first mock trial until his fourth year of law school!
It was an intense and eye-opening experience. We all learned several points of basic protocol such as the rule that you must stand when the judges enter the room, or when addressing the judges. In direct examinations, we learned to let the witness tell the story, but in cross examinations leading the witness is actually a key strategy. The judges took our trial seriously, and we learned quickly from their pointers. In May, we’ll put this new-found knowledge and skills to the test again as we perform a second mock trial. Charges for that trial are pending.
(photos by Kyle Slavin)