School of Law
The Courtroom and Advocacy
Law is practised in the courts. At Portsmouth, our qualifying Law degree concentrates on giving our students a good grounding in substantive law, but we complement this by offering a variety of activities in our state-of-the-art mock courtroom where students can develop skills they will need in practice. The courtroom is very realistic and looks like a Crown Court, and even has the Royal Coat of Arms placed above the judge’s seat, reflecting that justice is administered on behalf of the Crown. There is a witness stand and a space for jurors, together with a “dock” for defendants. A distinctive feature of the courtroom is the provision of four ceiling mounted cameras. We can therefore film student advocates, download the film and use it as a tool to show the student what went wrong – and what went right! This mirrors professional advocacy training and prepares students for advocacy, both on BPTC and for solicitors who want to exercise rights of audience. However, these skills are very transferable and relevant in many other roles which our graduates are likely to fill. The ability to speak well – and persuasively – in public is a useful attribute in so many different careers. It is no accident that many people in public life had legal training which included advocacy.
Our advocacy exercises include the traditional moots (where lawyers argue points of law), but also unscripted mock trials and cross examination exercises. The “witnesses” are actors from our Drama Department and, perhaps, professionals such as police officers or probation officers who give live, oral evidence in the courtroom and are questioned by law students.These exercises are great fun, extremely realistic and encourage students to practise the law they have learned. Equally important, a videoed performance of a student in action will add something special to their CVs and might give them an edge in that all important search for employment after graduation.
The Courtroom and Research
The jury occupies a central role in criminal trials – they decide the innocence or guilt of defendants. Despite their importance, very little is known about how, or why, juries reach their verdicts. In part this is because it is a contempt of court for anyone to ask a juror about their deliberations – and it is an offence for a juror to answer such a question. This makes research very difficult.
However, the mock courtroom allows cases to be heard in a very realistic environment and it is therefore possible to research jury decision-making, how the jury reacts to certain evidence and, indeed, it is possible to determine whether juries actually understand the evidence presented. These topics are currently being researched by Portsmouth PhD students. Portsmouth would be a great place in which to undertake research into issues relating to trials and advocacy.
The Courtroom as a teaching aid for non-lawyers
Many of our professionally qualified staff have significant experience as trial lawyers in civil, criminal and family proceedings. Some also have judicial experience. This means that we can provide realistic training experiences for anyone who might have to go to court, perhaps as an expert witness, or someone involved in law enforcement etc. We give practical advice and provide simulations where you can practice giving evidence and receive feedback on your performance before you have to do it for real in your professional life.