Guest blog: Martyn Cook and Linda Raine - Our verdict on mock trials? They're brilliant
School students from across the South West descended on Chippenham Law Courts at the weekend to compete for a place in the national final of the Magistrates' Court Schools Mock Trial competition.
For the first time, the Wiltshire Magistrates' Association hosted and organised the event on behalf of the Citizenship Foundation.
We would like to acknowledge the support of Wiltshire Community Foundation, Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson and the High Sheriff of Wiltshire, Mrs Nicky Alberry.
Ninety young people, aged 12 to 14 from six schools took part in two trials, taking on the roles of lawyers, defendant, witnesses, magistrates and court staff.
The challenge was to defeat their opponents in front of magistrates.
In the first trial they sought a guilty verdict when prosecuting a defendant charged with handling stolen goods.
In the second trial, the roles were reversed and they pressed for a not guilty verdict
The visitors were from schools in Cornwall, Hereford, Pontypool, Somerset and Swansea. Wiltshire was represented by St Laurence School in Bradford on Avon.
Each school had already competed in and won a local heat. The winners, Fairlands Middle School at Cheddar in Somerset will contest the national final at the Birmingham Law Courts in June.
There the students will enact a specially written case in which the defendant stands accused of handling stolen goods; namely a pair of Noize headphones worth £160, a gold ring worth £75 and a smartphone worth £550.
The competition is brilliant because it enables students to learn about all aspects of the criminal justice system - the law, procedures, consequences and the staff - and to develop confidence in personal skills such as public speaking, analytical techniques and working as a team.
Local magistrates helped the teams prepare by giving information on the everyday workings of magistrates' courts and by hosting court visits.
A teacher whose school entered last year's competition said: "Being able to use their analytical skills in a real-life scenario gave students a chance to see how their education can be of use to them."
The High Sheriff presented members of the winning school with medals and certificates.
Next year we hope to hold local heats in Swindon in March. We would be delighted to hear from potential sponsors.
Martyn Cook is a retired Wiltshire magistrate; Linda Raine is currently a Wiltshire magistrate.