Prior to volunteering to lead an elementary school mock trial as part of a free program offered by the Ontario Bar Association, I planned to take a grassroots approach to my teaching; starting with the very basics of the criminal justice system and moving onto the case that the class would be acting out.
Armed with a mock trial script of all the players in a criminal trial, I tried to think of ways to simplify the roles involved and the description of court procedures.
Enter Mrs. Carol McKeegan’s Grade 6 class of gifted kids at Hilson Avenue Public School in Ottawa. Within the first moments of introducing myself and the articling student who I was partnered with, I found myself overwhelmed by the children’s excitement and eagerness to begin.
We soon realized that we underestimated the knowledge, keenness, and passion for the law that many of the students already shared. Bombarded with questions about onuses, methods of prosecution, criminal procedure, and many other inquiries about the legal system as a whole, I had to pause and remind myself that these were Grade 6 students and not a first-year law school class. The difference, I assure you, was not that obvious.
While some clarification of the dos and don’ts of each key player needed to be explained, much of the children’s knowledge appeared to stem from TV’s CSI (Miami and New York; Las Vegas was never any good) and Law and Order. It was clear that each student had his or her own reason for liking the law, but one thing they had in common was their desire to take part in the mock trial.
Once all of the roles were distributed, the kids were excited for the trial to begin the next day. Other than what seemed to be the most popular ones — the accused, the defence, and Crown prosecutors — every student had an interesting role to act out whether it was a court clerk, bailiff, jury member, newspaper reporter, witness, expert witness, or a caricaturist.
I told them to feel free to use the Internet to look up various tips and tricks of the trade of their role in the trial, but I had my doubts as to whether the kids would come in the next day fully prepared and with the level of excitement that I had been exposed to from the get-go. Again, I underestimated them.
The next day, I was touched that the students came in early to set up the classroom to look like a courtroom. The trial went on passionately and creatively, filled with objections regarding the relevancy of the opposing counsel’s questions and disagreement over the verdict.
The students spoke with such clarity, precision, and intelligence that I couldn’t help but notice the glaring similarities to my own recent experience in the first-year moot court competition at the University of Ottawa. It was then that I realized the importance of this initiative since it is this kind of work that allows children’s interest in the law to develop at an early age so it can later mature into a career fuelled by passion.
I was filled with pride as the trial unraveled and happy to hear 12-year-old Liam Martin say that this experience was a “much better learning experience than just learning from the books.”
By the end of the trial, a part of me had already become attached to the kids and wanted to somehow ensure that their budding interest in the law would fully develop. I realized, however, that I had already played a big role in this. By allowing each student to actively partake in this mock trial, we nourished their preexisting curiosity and allowed them to peek into a world that, with hard work and dedication, they can be a part of.
Whether it is Grade 6 students or 1L students, I realized it is the passion for the law that propels one to move and become the other. I can only hope that the young students’ sincere interest doesn’t become one that is jaded. In fact, it was refreshing to be able to observe their enthusiasm and almost selfishly absorb it and remind myself that I always was, and still am, as eager to practise law as this group of wonderful kids was on this day.
Jenny Bogod will be entering her second year at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law this fall.