By Butch Rickeard
Mock Trials present a unique opportunity for both staff and students to learn about the justice system in Canada. Full disclosure is this; they are not easy at first, but within three attempts, all your efforts will be rewarded. This blog will discuss the Advantages, the Difficulties, the Results (in my case) and some Suggestions to help you avoid the mistakes I made through the years.
The Advantages of running a Mock Trial are numerous. Given the Civics Curriculum, the Introduction to Canadian Law or Canadian & International Law courses, you have clear connections to link theory and practice. Also, Growing Success suggests the learning process is best met with a series of teacher/student interactions focused on feedback and revisions – Mock Trials fit this model perfectly while also allowing you to keep students on track. Mock Trials are supported by OJEN (Ontario Justice Education Network) and will connect you to Tutorial Videos on how to carry out each stage of a trial – students really benefit from this. OJEN will also connect you with a member from the legal community to mentor your team; in my case, I’ve been partnered with a local Crown Attorney. I’ve learned so much from him in the past five years that has helped many students in my class. Additionally, the Mock Trial gives students a real opportunity to ignite their passion for a career in Law; I currently have six past team members in Law school. Finally, this tournament can help build your CWS department and school profile as another option for students to discover their talents.
Fortunately, the Difficulties are not as numerous. The biggest impediment to Mock Trials seems to be starting it; most teachers feel like they are at the base of a proverbial mountain to climb. It is not like that if you plan in advance for timelines or even run shorter trials in advance (e.g. Fairy Tales, Charging Goldilocks with B & E or the 3rd Little Pig [aka Notorious P.I.G.] with 2nd Degree Murder of the Wolf). Also, through and OHASSTA workshop and the help of an experienced mentor, I learned to guide the students through stages (which I would share with anyone interested). The other Difficulties are just being easier on yourself as you learn; few teachers actually carry a Law degree, so admit you have a lot to learn and lead the learning by example. I learn something new each year. Lastly, you may have to dispel a few myths and tv stereotypes about shouting and dramatic moments in court that students have seen in movies and television – I let them have fun with it and talk to them after about the realities.
The Results will start to speak for themselves as you progress. I can easily point to and refer to previous students who now are willing to speak to my classes as Lawyers and Police Officers, a few of which give all the credit to taking a chance on Mock Trial. The number of contacts I have in the legal community has grown as my participation in the tournament has evolved to my position as Vice Chair of the OJEN Committee for the Southwest Region. There, I meet with Law School students, faculty and Deans, with local Judges, criminal and civil attorney’s as well as Crown officials. These contacts are regular guests in class given the new reality of video-conferencing capabilities (one innovation of the ‘Pivot’ required in the Global Pandemic); this simply wasn’t possible without my participation in Mock Trial. I have connected with Law teachers regionally and provincially and in my other classes, it has enriched debate and preparation for oral discussions.
The Suggestions section could be quite long, so I’ll keep it in point form:
- Make it a goal to pay it forward – if someone helped you start, help two others and task them with the same challenge;
- It is one of those unique opportunities that students will have nowhere else in high school – becomes a marketing tool for elective courses;
- Ask for help from OJEN or teachers who have participated (including me);
- Attend a Regional tournament one year just to observe – realize that it takes time to get to that level – start in your class first, then enter the regional tournament;
- Cherry pick the keen, the interested, the talented from your class trials to join the school team and have a progressional plan (balance grade 12’s and 11’s so you always have veterans);
- Work with Drama department to help prepare witnesses.
- Find your mentor and get started, you won’t regret it.