The best, bar none

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NORMALLY the pupils of Coleraine High School are encouraged by the staff to stay away from the bar, drugs and guns.

However, for the last three months teachers Mr Semple and Mr Frew of the History and Politics Department have been actively encouraging an interest in these areas.

Unsurprisingly last Saturday 15 pupils ended up in court! But fear not, it was all in a good cause.

The bar in question was the Northern Ireland heat of the UK National Bar Mock Trial competition. The drugs and guns were the cases they had to prosecute and defend.

The first case, ‘The Crown v Speed’ – involved drug abuse at the Olympics and the second, ‘The Crown v Rollins’ – concerned the possession of a firearm It had been more than 12 years since Coleraine High School had participated in the Northern Ireland National Bar Mock Trial Competition at the High Court in Belfast. The prestigious event organised by the Citizenship Foundation has been running for 21 years.

It gives pupils the opportunity to play the roles of barristers, witnesses, court officials and jurors with the aim of ‘equipping students with a meaningful insight into our legal system, and a passion to become part of it themselves’.

Preparations at Coleraine High had been ongoing since September. They had gained vital assistance and guidance from ‘old girl’, Ms Diane Nixon, who had volunteered to help following her role as guest speaker at this year’s prize day.

A barrister and lecturer at Magee University, Ms Nixon provided much needed insight and guidance, including a video session which was described by one girl as ‘without doubt one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of our lives.’

This along with meetings after school, telephone conferences and countless emails meant that the girls approached Saturday well prepared.

In total there were 16 teams participating from schools including Dalriada, Methody, St Malachy’s and Victoria College. Each team had to participate in three mock trials in front of a judge or QC who scored the contest according to their performances.

Coleraine’s three contests were against St. Patricks Keady, St Dominics, Belfast and St Patricks Academy, Dungannon. After which it was announced that the two highest scoring teams going forward to the final would be Coleraine High School and Banbridge Academy.

Unsurprisingly nerves were frayed as the final took place in the Court of Appeal in front of Mr Justice McCloskey, Her Honour Judge Loughran and Mark Mullholland QC, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Bar Council.

When summing up the final Justice McCloskey commended the ‘wealth of talent’ they had seen and praised the “communication, diction, engagement with the jury and the grasp of the essentials of examination in chief, cross examination, as well as opening and closing speeches”.

Cheers went round the normally sober courtroom when Justice McCloskey announced that the winners were Coleraine High School. They now go on to represent Northern Ireland in the UK final at the Royal Courts of Justice in March.

Head of History, Jonathan Frew said: ‘We are delighted our students took advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the justice system and excelled in the courtroom’”.

Principal Mrs Bell said she was delighted with the success: “This achievement is a result of excellent team work when every pupil regardless of their role in the team demonstrated a level of skill and endeavour which culminated in this magnificent result.

“We are very proud of our girls and the commitment of the staff, and most grateful for the time and talent of Ms Diane Nixon. We wish them all every success for the next stage.”