If you are a newly qualified law graduate or lawyer taking on your first case, or a social worker being called to appear as an expert witness for the first time, appearing in court in front of a judge must be a daunting experience.
This week, undergraduates from the University of Cumbria had an opportunity to undergo the experience in the atmospheric environment of the old court rooms in the Citadel, Carlisle, giving them a sense of what to expect once they start their careers.
The students from law, social work, midwifery and mental health nursing courses played various roles, alongside their lecturers, in a mock family court and a mock mental health tribunal.
The courtroom event is part of an initiative which focuses on educating students to become professionals who are ready and able to practice when they graduate. Social work students would not normally have an opportunity to acquire court skills during their studies, but this mock trial experience allowed them to gain first-hand involvement in integrating theory and legislative knowledge into contemporary practice, with law students undertaking the case proceedings and cross examination.
The students prepared for and experienced what it felt like to conduct a case or to appear as an expert witness. It also allowed them to gain insight into each others' professions and achieve an early understanding of the necessity for multi-disciplinary working.
University of Cumbria principal law lecturer Ann Thanaraj explains:
“At university, all students receive intensive tuition on the theory and law in their chosen speciality. However, at the University of Cumbria we believe it is important that they are prepared for and have an understanding of the profession in which they will be working, to be involved in the experience of court proceedings and to understand the protocols and complexities of working in the legal arena.
“Having the chance to work in a real court environment serves to lessen the anxiety that young professionals often feel about performing in formal hearings.”
Kirsteen Laidlaw is a senior lecturer in rehabilitation and social work and she believes these sessions are vital to her students’ development. She said: “Research into the anxieties and skills gaps of newly qualified professionals shows us that appearing in court is one of the biggest areas of uncertainty. By having this court day experience as well as the preparatory learning, it is hoped that students will feel better prepared to appear in court and to give a high level of testimony. This is a key employability skill for professionals and the University of Cumbria is at the forefront of developing employability skills for professional students.”
As well as university lecturers, Linda Vance, former Divisional Crown Prosecutor in Cumbria, current member of Police Commissioner's Scrutiny Panel and NHS Governor, guided students in their advocacy preparation. Christopher Armstrong, Solicitor and former Bench Legal Advisor for Cumbria (now retired) also gave his time to act as judge and lend realism to the court sessions. The law students had an opportunity to sit on the court bench to assist with delivering a judgement.
His Honour Judge Davies opened the event and commented on how important he thought these opportunities were for students, to be able to see what types of complexities and vulnerabilities, as professionals, they would have to deal with to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and vulnerable adults.