Switching mock trials online enables more legal professionals to get involved 

Switching mock trials online at Kent Law School – as a way of overcoming Coronavirus-related restrictions – is not only enabling more students to witness law in action but also more legal practitioners, judges and magistrates to get involved.

Stage 2 and 3 law students enrolled on the School’s Mock Trial Advocacy module have been preparing for trial, under COVID-secure conditions, in face-to-face workshops on campus as part of the School’s blended-learning strategy. Final mock Crown Court proceedings will be taking place via Zoom to ensure that as many students as possible are able to watch the trials or participate as members of the jury.

Darren Weir, Director of Lawyering Skills at Kent, said the virtual environment has also made it easier for more members of the local legal community to get involved: ‘This year will see a total of 28 academics, judges, practitioners and Magistrates playing the roles of witnesses and judges in our Crown Court trials. Being online has certainly got its advantages in that that regard!’

In order to overcome the problem of students missing some of the preparatory workshops when required to self-isolate, Darren established a ‘Buddy’ system: ‘I set up a Buddy system early on where students who do isolate can do a Zoom link with their buddy and appear ‘virtually – in person’ on an iPad or computer screen so at least they don’t miss anything and can still observe their colleagues and the advocacy.’ The majority of workshops were also recorded for students to be able to watch again.

The mock trials enable students to see – and experience – how criminal law works in practice. Darren said: ‘The advocate students will get a real sense of law ‘in action’ and jurors will have an opportunity to discuss the merits of each case with their contemporaries before reaching a verdict on the evidence. Both groups will be better able to evaluate the role of an advocate and to critically reflect on how the process has its place in society.’

Eleven cases will be heard throughout November and December, with each trial lasting up to three hours. Students volunteering their time as jurors, Court Clerks, ushers or witnesses will be rewarded with employability points.

The Mock Trial Advocacy module enables students to gain a detailed knowledge and understanding of the techniques used in trial advocacy. As well as being able to demonstrate skills in persuasion, case preparation and analysis, students learn how to question witnesses effectively.

Mock trials are normally held in the state-of-the-art replica courtroom on the upper floor of the Wigoder Law Building – students are still invited to watch proceedings but numbers are limited by the seats available. When asked whether the experience of online delivery might change the way the module is delivered, once the restrictions are eased, Darren replied: ‘As they say…the jury is out…’