Law class from Central Collegiate takes over Queen’s Bench court for an afternoon
The courtroom at the Moose Jaw Court of Queen’s Bench was packed for the first time in months.
The case was that of a motorcyclist charged with dangerous driving causing bodily harm to another driver in a collision out on Caribou Street West. The court heard that two motorcycles had possibly been racing on the city street when a car, driven by the victim, made to pull out into traffic. One motorcyclist collided with the vehicle while the other continued on. The victim was left with a concussion severe enough to keep him in the hospital for five days, as well as a knee injury, both of which prevented him from running a marathon shortly after.
In a moment of drama, a witness was asked to identify the person she saw on the bike that hit the vehicle. She pointed from the stand to where the accused was sitting and said, “That’s him right there.”
Both witness and accused – and counsel and bailiff and jury, for that matter – were students in a law class at Central Collegiate working on their final exam.
“One of the reasons behind doing this, I think, is to help the students tie in the whole semester, it brings it all together with a big trial,” their teacher Cal Carter told the Times-Herald, calling the process the highlight of the class for many students. “When they see it in action, it just really seems to be a great learning experience for all of them.”
The case itself is fictitious, but the photos of a wrecked motorcycle that were used for exhibits were from a real crash in which the young driver died, used with the blessing of his family for educational purposes.
Although students took over some of the most important positions in the courtroom, they were guided by real defence attorney Tim McLeod, as well as lead prosecutor Brian Hendrickson. Justice Darin Chow presided over the proceedings.
“It’s a great opportunity for high school students to get some exposure to what the justice system looks like in a very educational and non-threatening kind of way,” said McLeod, who was involved with the project last year as well. “It’s a lot of fun for both the students and the professionals that are involved.”
He noted that Hendrickson has been involved for even longer.
“We both find the experience a lot of fun, and every year you learn something from the students. As much as we teach them, they teach us.”
Those students, however, would be the first to admit how much preparation went into the project. Some, like Justin McElree, said they were already planning on a career in law.
“It was a really good experience,” said McElree, the lawyer for the defence. “Law is very interesting to me and this only further helped that interest.”
On the prosecution’s side, Sara Moncion said the preparation was intense. Students spent class-time meeting with each other and preparing their case, as well as consulting with their respective lawyers to guide them.
Most of the junior co-counsels agreed that the toughest part was coming up with questions that drew out the evidence they wanted the court to hear, but without leading the witness. They all, however, rose to the challenge.
“It was good,” said Zak Allie, who argued for the Crown. “I was very nervous but it went a lot smoother than I thought it would, and it was quite an enjoyable experience I could learn from.”
On the defence side, Rachel Carline said she enjoyed the process of the whole thing.
“It was really fun to cross-examine and try to poke holes in witness statements, and it was a really good experience,” she said.
The verdict, in the end, came in not guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. In a candid moment with the students after the jury had left the room, Justice Chow predicted that most people’s decisions would hang on whether or not they thought the two motorcycles were in fact racing when the accident occurred.
“I think it was a fair verdict,” said Haley Pearce, co-counsel for the prosecution. “It was not unreasonable.”
The experience is valuable for the students who aren’t picked to be lawyers or key witnesses as well. Carter said just being in the courtroom before a judge is something of a novel experience.
“They’re surprised at how it’s not like TV,” he said. “It’s more about the protocol and that there are niceties between the defence and the prosecution, and it’s not, ‘Show me the truth!’”
For those students who participate as members of the jury, he said it gives them a taste of the experience before being legally old enough to serve on one in real life.
“This kind of a learning experience outside of a classroom is what I’ve really found that is really beneficial to them,” Carter said. “This is their final exam. This is what they do, and they do a reflection on this experience.”