You know those really cool scenes in law dramas when the cocky young lawyer stands up in court and bellows: “Objection!”
Imagine how awesome it would be to be able to do the same. Well, now you can, because mock trial competitions are coming up this March and April. These particular trials are run by Arch Education, but there are many others that you can enter, too.
How a mock trial works
Practising barrister Stanley Ho Siu-king says that students get to try either criminal or civil cases.
In criminal cases, the counsel for the prosecution gives an opening statement, which lays out the case they will argue. The counsel for the accused then gives their opening statement. The prosecution then begins calling witnesses to the stand. After the prosecution is finished questioning a witness, the defence gets a chance to cross-examine them. Then, when the prosecution is done calling all their witnesses, the defence calls their own and holds a direct examination – after which the prosecution gets to cross-examine them.
The trial usually ends with closing statements, first given by the prosecution and then by the defence. Some competitions will also allow rebuttals after the closing statements are done.
In a civil case, the side that is bringing the complaint is called the plaintiff, and the side rebutting the complaint is the defendant. The plaintiff’s side starts the case, but everything else is the same.
Getting a head start on your opposition
First, you’ve got to ask yourself what your team has to establish or prove in terms of facts. How can your team win in terms of the law? Consider the credibility of your evidence. Test it to see if it can withstand being cross-examined. In cross-examination, the counsel will usually try to destroy the credibility of a witness, so make sure your witness can withstand any questions that cast doubt on what they are saying.
Second, look to destroy the opposition witnesses’ credibility. Watch out for differences in the way the witness words things. For example, they might say: “We have been friends for a long time, and he is very kind to me.” Later on, they might say: “We have been friends for a long time as he is very kind to me.” The use of different connectors “and” and “as” imply different things, and show inconsistency in the relationship.
Match testimony to evidence in order to identify inconsistencies. If an accused claims, for example, that the deceased “fell on a knife” and died, but the victim has several stab wounds, this requires further explanation, and you can demand it from a witness during cross-examination. In your closing statement, be sure to highlight any inconsistencies. Point out whenever the witness declines to give direct answers to direct questions. Make your questions as easy to understand as possible with simple language, giving the witness every opportunity to answer. If all else fails, quote their response and establish whether or not they still believe it’s accurate.
Now witness this
If you are the witness, avoid being evasive or giving inconsistent answers.
Avoid any confusion over what you say with simple language, and make it as easy as possible for the judge to understand your argument. Be aware of the clock ticking – there’s a time limit that witnesses will try to manipulate and fill up with useless waffle.
Prepare, prepare, prepare! If you are an lawyer, having lots of prep will help you to catch out the inconsistencies. If you are a witness, preparing yourself means you’ll be able to minimise or avoid saying anything that will cast doubt on the argument. Be flexible enough to respond to what’s happening during the trial and adjust your questions or statements to fit accordingly.
Students need to be familiar with court etiquette and jargon. If hopeful lawyers make mistakes here, they will find it hard to gain the respect of the judge presiding over the case.
You’ll walk away from a mock trial with tonnes of new knowledge and experience (whether or not you win the case). More importantly, have fun with it – immerse yourself in this scenario, and enjoy your time being part of a complex court case!
No matter how well you do in court, first impressions are lasting, and once a judge has a certain impression of you, it’s gonna be difficult to get that out of their minds. Avoid that by knowing how to act and behave in a court setting, as well as the proper terms and forms.
Court settings are different in different courts, which means judges are referred to with different appellations. For district courts, it’s “Your Honor.” In the magistrate courts, assuming that you are a barrister, it is “Sir” or “Madam”. For the High Court or the Court of Final Appeal, it is “My Lord” or “My Lady”.
Remember to never turn your back on the judge, and stand up – don’t sit – when you talk. Giving basic respect to the judge and the rest of the court are some of the foundations to your professional image in law.
Bona fide: genuinely or truly
Common grounds: If the judge asks you whether the piece of information is a common ground, that means he or she would like to know whether the related facts are disputed or not
Consideration: costs in contract
Prima Facie: at first sight or on the face of it
Submissions: arguments submitted by lawyers