Appearing in court can be daunting for anyone, but especially if you are a newly qualified advocate taking on your first case, or a social worker being called to appear as an expert witness for the first time.
This week, over a hundred undergraduates from the University of Cumbria had an opportunity to feel the full force of the law at Carlisle Magistrate’s Court.
The students from law, social work, midwifery and mental health nursing courses took over two courtrooms, playing various roles in a mock family court and a mock mental health tribunal.
The courtroom event is a new initiative at the university, which focuses on educating students to become professionals who are ready and able to practice when they graduate. For instance, 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.
The students had the opportunity to understand what it felt like to conduct a case or to appear as an expert witness. It also allowed them to gain insight into each other’s 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, we feel it is important for these nearly-qualified professionals to have hands-on 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.”
As well as university lecturers, a number of external professionals also gave their time to act as judges and lend realism to the court sessions. They included Chris Armstrong, previously a Clerk to the Justices for Cumbria, Abigail Finnegan, chief executive of Safety Net, a charity which gives therapeutic help to families who have suffered domestic and sexual abuse, and solicitor Linda Vance, who is also a governor for NHS Cumbria Partnership Trust.
Third year law student Shannon Bateson from Cockermouth has already been offered a job as a trainee solicitor at local law firm Cartmell Shepherd. She explained:
“Being able to include hands-on experience like this in your CV really makes it stand out from the crowd. I’ve particularly appreciated being involved in the mock family court and seeing how the judges interact differently than in crown courts.”
Lauren Johnstone from Carlisle is a third year social work student and said:
“This has been a unique opportunity to gain first-hand experience of what happens in tribunals and courtrooms. It has brought reality to all the theory we’ve been learning at university.”