A JUDGE has praised as future “legal eagles” West Yorkshire schoolchildren who met members of the judiciary and carried out mock trials at Bradford Tribunal Hearing Centre.

The 151 primary and secondary pupils from Leeds, Bradford, Keighley and Ilkley took part in workshops run by the National Justice Museum to learn about the justice system and the rule of law. They played the roles of judges, barristers, defendants, witnesses and court officials in trials based on real ones involving knife crime, hate crime, cyberbullying and robbery.

They also got the chance to quiz judges about their work.

Judge Laurence Saffer, one of eight judges who took part, said he was highly impressed by students from Ilkley Grammar School as they held their mock trial, which was also watched by the High Sheriff of West Yorkshire, Dr Zulfi Karim, who was visiting the hearing centre that day.

“The defence barrister was able to persuade the jury, myself and Dr Karim that the defendant should be acquitted of the knife crime he had been accused of,” said Judge Saffer. “In the real case the defendant was convicted, so the school defence barrister did better than the real defence barrister, as she achieved an acquittal.

“The school Judge said she would have sentenced the defendant to four years in jail if convicted, and the real defendant was jailed for four years and three months. So there are at least two legal eagles in the making.

“The questions that followed showed the year 9 students understood the legal process, as I was asked about how physical evidence is preserved, the role of circumstantial evidence, and what a lawyer should do if they think a person is guilty but wants to plead not guilty. Some of the students indicated a wish to enter the legal profession. Even those who did not will hopefully have learned about the importance of the justice system.

“We hope to be able to repeat the National Justice Museum programme and are happy for any organised school group to visit by arrangement.”

Gill Brailey, Director of Learning at the Nottingham-based National Justice Museum, said: “You can’t match the impact of a young person being in a real court building, having to go through security, knowing there are real legal professionals working there, and dressing up in real wigs and gowns and using a real courtroom. These sessions teach young people about citizenship and the importance of the rule of law. They find meeting a judge really inspirational.”

The pupils were also told about the many different apprenticeships offered by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

The judiciary is involved in other outreach work aimed at young people, including through its Schools Engagement Programme, in which judges and magistrates visit schools.

Information is available at https://www.judiciary.uk/about-the-judiciary/diversity/schools-engagement/.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, also recently launched a free online course aimed at explaining the rule of law. More can be found out about that here: https://www.judiciary.uk/new-free-online-course-launched-to-explain-the-rule-of-law/