The High Sheriff hosted an event in Oxford Crown Court last night to celebrate a programme that introduces young people to the world of the courts. The project is administered through a charitable fund held and managed by OCF.
The Getting Court project was initiated in April 2015 by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Tom Birch Reynardson. Tom, who is a lawyer, saw a need for young people to be involved in the court process, to give them a unique insight into the criminal justice system. The project allows small groups of schoolchildren to visit the court on a Thursday morning, to see sentences being handed down. As well as sitting in on the proceedings, the students are given a walk-through of the process by the clerk, explanations of the cases by the judge, and summaries of either side of the case by the barristers.
The project, including an administrator who coordinates relationships with multiple schools, is funded by donations made through a charitable fund that Tom set up with Oxfordshire Community Foundation, which was a more cost-effective option than setting up his own charity.
As Tom explained at the event, the objectives of the Getting Court project are threefold:
- To give pupils the chance to see for themselves the consequences of stepping the wrong side of the line
- To demonstrate how the courts, police, probation and prison services work together to support and protect our communities, especially those in vulnerable circumstances
- To share the range of fascinating career opportunities in the legal and law-enforcement fields
As well as the court visits, Getting Court provides a suite of lesson plans for teachers to use to introduce the topic and facilitate follow-up discussions. A website is also planned that will allow students to follow and comment on the cases they have seen online.
The event brought home the impact of the Getting Court project on the participants. Hannah Prince, a year 11 student at Gosford School (pictured with Judge Ross), gave her own lively account of her experience visiting the court: “The court was very tense and serious – but not what I was expecting from films and TV. I was surprised how normal the man convicted looked – but he deserved to get longer in my opinion! I left court with lots to think about – and am now hoping to study forensic science.”
Judge Pringle commented at the event that education was a vital part of his role as a judge. The students’ experiences taught them stark lessons about the consequences of making a bad decision, especially when it came to drug-taking. Many students were shocked at the aged appearance of a drug addict who had committed several robberies to feed his addiction. “It was staggering how engaged they were,” he commented. “From my personal experience it has been a tremendously successful project.”
As part of his summary, Tom praised the teachers from the schools that had engaged, saying they had gone the extra mile in the context of what is already a challenging role. Concluding the presentations was Miss Clinch, Hannah’s teacher at Gosford School, who gave a vivid account of one case they witnessed, where students started by feeling sorry for the suspect but changed their minds when he became angry and aggressive in court. “There was an audible stifled gasp from the students – and later it provoked a lot of discussion about bad choices. They started think about the victim. Overall, Judge Ross made the students feel worthy of the respect he gave them, and a lot of self-belief followed. It had a significant impact on them.”