DOZENS of youngsters got a first-hand taste of the criminal justice system at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.
But it wasn’t a juvenile crimewave sweeping Wearside – just the regional heat of a national contest aimed at giving young people an insight into how the courts work.
The Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition sees students take on the roles of lawyers, witnesses, magistrates and even court staff and prepare the prosecution and defence of specially written criminal cases.
Teams compete against each other in a live format in real magistrates’ courts, with their performances judged by magistrates and other legal professionals.
Six schools from as far afield as Cockermouth and Appleby visited Sunderland – the first time the city has hosted the competition – to go head to head for the chance to represent the region in the national final.
The competition is run by the Citizenship Foundation in partnership with the Magistrates’ Association,
Cliff Jones, chairman of the Sunderland bench, welcomed the visitors and Deputy Mayor and Mayoress Coun Iain Kay and Coun Barbara McClennan were also on hand.
“We do try to give young people an understanding of how the system works through our community project,” said Mr Jones. “But an event like this allows the children to see all sides, from the defendant’s point of view, from the magistrates’ point of view, the prosecution and the defence.”
Court clerk Robert Martin organised the event on behalf of the Sunderland court.
“We have got around 90 children taking part and I expect to have 250 people through the building altogether,” he said.
“We are very grateful to everyone – including magistrates from some of the other courts taking part – who have given up their time to help us today.”