The PLEA: Mock Trials

The PLEA: Mock Trials

Mock Trials: A Brief History

A mock trial, as the name implies, is a fictional courtroom re-creation. Mock trials can be based on real cases or they can be entirely hypothetical situations. Because of their experiential nature, they are a great way to consider and debate issues surrounding justice, a great way to better understand the court process, and a great way to build articulation and debate skills.

Mock trials—and their similar cousin “moot courts”— have been a central component of learning about the law for a very long time. As a method of legal education, mock trials and moot courts can be traced back to at least 14th Century Britain. At this time, they were a central training aspect for lawyers. Before an individual could be called to the bar (the process of being recognized as a lawyer) they had to successfully perform in moot court.

Even though mock trials and moot courts are still around, over time the role of simulation in training and certifying lawyers has changed. In North America, simulations began to fall to the wayside in the 1800s. In their place, the case-study method of considering and analyzing legal cases rose to prominence as the accepted method for formal education in law schools.

The rise of case studies was largely due to two factors. First, the Enlightenment had brought confidence to scientific methods of thinking. Second, law schools were struggling for respect as institutions of higher learning. It was believed that embracing scientific thinking by applying new “scientific methods” of case study to law would move the field in line with other areas of higher learning. As a consequence, higher-level law education would become a more respected discipline. By 1870, Harvard University sidelined simulation activities in favour of case studies in their law school.

Today, mock trials, moot courts, and other legal simulations still have a role to play in learning about the law: not only are simulations still found in most law schools, but moot courts still play a central role in the United Kingdom’s law education. And mock trials are not limited to universities. In the local K-12 educational context, mock trials are commonplace. Saskatchewan even has an annual mock trial competition called the McKercher Cup for high school students.

Because of their usefulness in building skills and understandings about laws, justice, court processes, and debate, the endurance of simulations in law-related education is understandable. Since their use is supported through the Saskatchewan curriculum, the coming pages will consider why you should implement a mock trial in your classroom, and how you can go about doing this.

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