THE GETTING COURT PROJECT
High Sheriffs have always been associated with keeping the Queen's Peace and in modern times continue to support the judiciary by providing a non-partisan, civilian link to the local community, and to local institutions such as the magistracy, the police, probation and prison services and other voluntary services.
Getting Court is an excellent opportunity for young people to see how justice is meted out and see for themselves what happens in a “live” court room.
Court visits are arranged for about 15 children, possibly from two different schools,. We plan to arrange the visits on Thursdays, which are most often sentencing days. The children arrive at Court at about 9.30am, and are given a short introduction to the Court process by the Court Clerk.
The judge will then come into court and give the students a quick introduction to the day’s business in an informal way. Proceedings then start and there is normally a very wide range of cases where an “interim” issue is discussed such as bail or arrangements for the trial. The judge makes sure that the barristers provide a thumbnail outline of the cases so that the students hear some of the background. Each case is different and it is fascinating for the children to hear the circumstances of the crimes, to see the various arguments put forward by the contending barristers, and to see how the judge deals with the matter in hand.
There will then be a number of cases where the judge sentences those who have been found guilty. This is fascinating because the children hear the barristers for the prosecution and the defence arguing their respective positions and then the judge will sum up and deliver his sentence. Normally there is an opportunity at the end of the sitting (or in a break in proceedings) for the judge to take a few moments explaining any matters of interest and answering questions. This is a particularly valuable part of the session, and the children seem to ask excellent questions, the answers to which are often remarkably pertinent.
Getting Court provides a suite of lesson plans and resources which fit into the existing PSHE & Citizenship part of the National Curriculum. This resource has been carefully tailored to respond to the curriculum in a way which will also provide an introduction for both teachers and students to the heart of its purpose which is to attend a working Court to see and hear the sometimes harsh realities of the criminal justice system being played out.
After the Court visits the schools will follow up with lessons focused on what the students saw and their reaction to it. If schools want, Getting Court will arrange for a solicitor or barrister to attend so that more questions can be asked. The feedback is that the students have a very vivid memory of all the cases and have been very engaged in discussions, the crimes involved and the consequences of crime. The children follow with interest the reporting of the cases in the newspapers.
The administrator of the project is Elizabeth Parker and she can be contacted via the Contact page
SOME COMMENTS FROM STUDENTS
"Although he committed a crime, I felt some sympathy for the drug addict because I could not believe how old he was. As a class, we are thinking of raising some money for a drug charity, to help people when they are released from prison."
"What I enjoyed most about my visit was when the man accused of biting another guy’s ear off had a little tantrum and stormed out, it was stupid of him because the moment he did that everyone knew he was guilty and that he has a bad temper."
"The most shocking case in my opinion were the paedophile and the guy who was on drugs that took the nurse’s car, I thought that was dreadful. Seeing those cases in court made me realise things like that really do happen on my doorstep."
"What I learned from the trip to Crown Court was do not be tempted to do drugs or other crimes and focus on staying out of trouble with the police or anyone else."
"I think that the man who broke into hotels and broke into the nurse’s locker and stole her car keys and money should have had a longer sentence …"
"Have learnt not to do drugs because it makes you look older than you are and it can ruin your life. I felt a bit sorry for him because he needs help."
"The funny bit about the trip was when you told us that once someone tried to run out of court and they thought the quickest way was nearest to the judge’s exit and he tried to go that way and the judge rugger tackled him, I found that really funny."
"If I think about your job it must be quite hard because if you sentence someone to a big sentence and his or her family are watching and they are crying it must be hard to sentence them."