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8 July 2024
Wider justice system

No, not the latest Netflix series, or a Panorama special on the criminal justice system, but a mock trial competition for Year 6 pupils from across Manchester, organised by the Magistrates’ Association’s (MA) Greater Manchester branch. As Neil Cox, the MA’s Head of Marketing and Communications explains, it’s an innovative and fun way to educate children about the work of magistrates and a crime which can affect children of all ages.

A photo of a mock trial competition

On 28 June, 160 children aged 10 and 11 from 16 primary schools across Greater Manchester travelled to Salford for the final of the MA Manchester branch’s 2024 Mock Trial Competition. There, the schools battled it out in a series of mock magistrate court trials, judged by an expert panel of magistrates, with prizes galore at the end.

The mock trial focused on the fictional case of a teenager found in possession of a knife in their local park. The script this year was written by youth panel members of the Greater Manchester Magistrates in the Community team, to reflect their real experiences in Manchester Youth court.  Each school had been sent a script of the trial beforehand, which they had to learn and rehearse to be able to perform in a realistic court setting on the day.

A photograph of a mock magistrates court trial A bench of three magistrates, judging at a mock trial competition

“The children played all the roles of the court – magistrates, solicitors, defendant, witnesses, prosecutor, legal advisor, court usher and even court reporters and court artists”, explains Rachel Medcalf JP, Greater Manchester MA’s Magistrates in the Community Coordinator and organiser of the competition.

“At the end of the trial, the children who were playing the bench of magistrates retired to discuss the case with the presiding justice – played by one of the Greater Manchester magistrates – and returned to the court to give their verdict. We judged the children’s performances, taking into account how confident and clear they were, as well as their knowledge and understanding of their role in the court and the court processes.”

To make the day as interesting and educational as possible for the children and their teachers, the Greater Manchester Magistrates in the Community team ran an interactive knife crime workshop, called Knives: Crime Choices and Consequence with each school. This covered the law and on knife crime the dangers of carrying knives and practical information on how to stay safe.

“Knife crime affects everyone – it’s in the news a lot and the children all hear about it, so they need to be aware of it and educated about it”, says Leila Abrams, a class teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School in Wigan. “It’s especially important for our year 6 children, as they will be starting at secondary school in September.”

“The mock trial competition was excellent too, and I’m so proud of the children. They’ve practiced hard for the past month, and they did really well.”

For many of the children, another highlight of the day was being able to clamber all over a fire appliance – courtesy of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service – and trying on a firefighter’s uniform. Other partner agencies were also on hand to educate and entertain the children, and give practical safety demonstrations included colleagues from Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police, Transport for Greater Manchester – Travel Safe, Early Break and Greater Manchester Crimestoppers.

A photograph of a fire engine

By 1pm, the last court case had been heard, the children had all attended a workshop, visited the partner agencies’ stands and eaten their lunches. All that remained was for the winners to be announced!

Rachel Medcalf explained, “The performances from the children were excellent. They all played their roles so well, and the judges had a very difficult task. The scoring was particularly close between the first and second-placed schools, but the winner was Whittaker Moss Primary School in Rochdale, with an impressive 104 out of 120 points.

“As well as shields for the runners up and winners, we also awarded an Outstanding Individual Performance trophy to one pupil from each of the 16 competing schools, and we were honoured to have Dr Eamonn O’Neal DL, the High Sheriff of Greater Manchester, as our special guest to present the prizes. Eammon gave a very entertaining speech to the children before the prize giving and it was wonderful to have him with us.”

Also at the competition was Gwynneth Bellman JP MBE, a long-serving member of the MA’s Greater Manchester branch. She had set-up the first Year 6 mock trial competition back in 2018 and has watched it grow over the years, to the extent that now – such is the level of demand from schools across Manchester’s 10 boroughs – the Greater Manchester branch are considering adapting the competition to run regional semi-finals that will feed into the grand final.

The mock trial competition format is looking to expand to other areas too. Rachel has been in touch with the MA’s Cheshire branch who have recently run their own Year 6 mock trial competition, and she is talking to MA branches in West Yorkshire and Leicestershire to share experiences.

The last word comes from Sarah Cadogan, Deputy Head at the overall winners, Whittaker Moss Primary School. “The children had a fabulous time and the day created memories that will stay with them forever.  Importantly, they also took some key messages about knife crime back to school with them.”

Children and teachers from the winning school in our 2024 mock trial competition
The winning school!
Magistrates from the Magistrates' Association's Greater Manchester branch
...and the competition's organising committee