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If you’re a law student and have at any point attempted to gain any kind of work experience from chambers, courts or firms and then you’ll undoubtedly have experienced sending countless ignored emails. However, one of the most beneficial forms of experience is available every weekday, for free, in the comfort of your local city or town.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the public gallery of your local court. Access to the court is something that most law students are aware is open to them, but quite rarely make the most of. The public gallery is available in all courts across the UK, except for the youth court, and is an entirely free entry for all those looking to observe. As a member of the public gallery, you’re able to sit in silence and observe the proceedings taking place first-hand. In my experience, this gives you a far more beneficial understanding of the way the court works than any virtual education could offer.
When I’ve visited courts myself, I’ve discovered that often it’s not quite the same as written education makes you think. For example, I recently shadowed a judge at my local magistrates’ court in South Shields and was shocked at how informal and conversational the courtroom was. As opposed to the idea that many of us have of a courtroom, where the defence and prosecution appear to lock horns to secure their preferred outcome, the magistrates’ court felt much more like a discussion intended to find the true and correct outcome for all involved. It was so striking that it’s genuinely thrown a spanner into what I believed to be my fairly set-in-stone plan of practising law outside of the courtroom.
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Even having been to the Newcastle crown court, I was shocked at how different the feeling there was compared to when visiting the Old Bailey on a recent trip to London. Even a geographical change can make a huge difference to how the court proceeds in what is essentially the exact same form of court. If you’re someone who has already planned where they’re going to practice, then visiting your local courts is something which is unbelievably beneficial as it helps you gain a better understanding of your local courts and how they often tend to function.
With over 92 crown courts in the UK, hearing close up to 100,000 cases a year, with each magistrates court hearing tens of cases daily, there are hours of cases for any aspiring law student to listen into for some (potentially) career-changing education.