Sunday, 18 March 2007

Kids in court

I was watching a case in the Court of Appeal last week when in trouped a class of teenagers. It was in one of the old fashioned courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice and it was a very senior panel of judges. The first few of the kids squeezed onto the back row, which filled rapidly. The chair of the panel therefore invited the others to sit in the rows in front, which was misinterpreted as an invitation to sit in the front row for QCs.

I should explain that there is a separate row of seats right at the front of some court rooms which is for QCs only. The other barristers, I think all of whom are referred to as juniors (sometimes as senior juniors when it becomes obvious to all that they are never going to get silk), have to advocate from a row back, which puts them in their place and at something of a disadvantage.

The arguments in the case were turgid and concerned overlapping and badly drafted regulations. However, the substantive issue at stake was an important one with serious consequences for those affected. Had one of the Lords Justice stopped the proceedings for a moment or two to explain some context, the proceedings might have looked less like a pointless and very boring wig and gown show and more like an important legal case. Quite the opposite, as everyone if anything hammed it up even more. The words ultra vires and ex hypothesi were even deployed, which I thought was particularly criminal in the circumstances.

The kids trouped out again after 20 minutes. As the last of them were leaving, the chair of the panel congratulated the speaking barrister for what must have been amazing advocacy, as none of the children seemed to have fallen asleep despite the subject matter.

Presumably the kids left having understood nothing other than that barrister and judges are boring, look pretty damn silly in wigs and gowns and sometimes use Latin words. All very accurate, you might think, but I can't help feeling the legal profession didn't exactly help itself on this occasion. Politicians and the political classes -- which I suspect includes judges and many barristers -- waffle about citizenship classes and engagement but when opportunities present themselves in a meaningful context, they are passed by.

And then teachers get the blame, somehow.


Nearly Legal said...

I take your point and agree with some of it, but I'm not wholly sure that an argument over the wording of regulations is ever going to be a suitable place for legal enlightenment of the young, let alone from the bench of the RCJ.

But there are still teaching opportunities there I'd have thought. Granted using ex hypothesi is pretty unforgiveable, but ultra vires is an important term that a decent teacher could follow up in a citizenship session, I'd have thought.

A hearing on regulations is never, ever, fire up t'youth, which makes me wonder about the teacher's research, but context for attending such a hearing should be surely set up by the teacher ahead of time and then followed up.

Having said that, most County Courts I have been to have taken great care when dealing with a Defendant, or even a Claimant, in person to make sure that matters substantive and procedural are clearly and carefully explained. maybe my usual courts are exceptional.

Mike from Lytchett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Pineapples said...

I cant follow your criticism.

Kids should see the Courts as they really are: at times dull, pompous and arcane. That is the English system.

What did you expect to happen? Judge jumping on the table and shouting: "Let's get ready to rumble?"

I cant see that ever happening. In Alabama maybe...UK....doubtful.

Android said...

I think if law loses its element of mystery, then it would become like any other profession.

I mean, there has to be something unique and distant from lay persons understanding, which adds this elite status and gives lawyers monopoly over their work :)

BabyBarista said...

Hi PB, Glad to see you back posting and like the re-design. Thank you very much for the link, which is much appreciated. So who's the new pupil master and what's the name going to be? Also, when is your first day in court? All the very best for it.

Pupilblogger said...

Interesting comments. The hearing could never have been exciting for the kids, nor even interesting, but it needn't have been so utterly pointless and without context. And I'm afraid most teachers aren't likely to be able to explain what ultra vires means in any meaningful way - why should they be able to? It's also a bit unrealistic to expect teachers to be able to find the time to call a court in advance, work out how to talk to the legal staff, persuade them to give out information on which cases might be most interesting to teenagers and so on. A visit to a crown court is far more likely to go down well with school children, but it isn't much of a surprise that a teacher might (mistakenly, sadly) think it was a good idea to visit the Royal Courts of Justice as part of a careers, general studies or even citizenship lesson.

Nearly Legal said...

Perhaps most teachers couldn't explain ultra vires, I don't know. But if teaching citizenship, surely they should - it being a basic principle of government under the rule of law?

Point taken about the difficulty of research. But I still think any explanation of context from the Bench would a) have taken rather more than a moment or two and b) probably not have helped much with kids interest or comprehension - that the regs affected people, maybe, but the point of the argument and what effect it would have? I doubt it.

Perhaps a handy guide for schools suggesting that teachers ask the court clerks or ushers to tip them off to an interesting case would help ;-)