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Home > News and Events > The FitzGerald Moot

The FitzGerald Moot

8 Mar 19

The FitzGerald Society is Woodbridge School’s Junior Oxbridge programme for academic highfliers who seek intellectual challenges beyond the curriculum. Events so far have included an afternoon discussing arsenic poisoning, as well as trips to the British Museum, the Wellcome Collection and a University of Cambridge Year 10 Open Day. On Friday 1st March, the Science Lecture Theatre was transformed into the Royal Courts of Justice for the main Lent Term event – a Moot (or mock law trial). We were particularly fortunate in having three extremely eminent legal guests present: the Rt Hon Sir John Waite (formerly of the Court of Appeal), Mr Justice Beaumont (ex-Recorder of London) and Mr Justice Bevan (formerly of the Old Bailey). They were joined by Mr Finbow, Chairman of the Seckford Foundation and George Vestey, the High Sheriff of Suffolk.

The audience (from Years 7, 8, 9 and 11, plus parents and friends) made up the jury and were treated to a display of impassioned debate and close interrogation from the two legal teams (who were in wigs and gowns, thanks to the generosity of various parents). However, unlike in normal courtroom dramas, the cast had not learned lines from a script. The barristers had been presented with a series of witness statements, police documents, and summaries of various laws. From that, they had to decide who was to be called to give evidence, to formulate what questions to ask the witnesses, and to anticipate what the other side might ask on cross-examination. Moreover, the prosecution had to consider the difference between Murder, Unlawful Act Manslaughter, and Child Destruction, as well as which would be the most appropriate charge against the defendant. (The defendant, Michael Attleborough, had stabbed his pregnant girlfriend in the abdomen. The baby was born prematurely, and the defendant was accused of causing its death.)

Similarly, the witnesses had to work out what their responses would be to likely questions, and there were some superb character studies of 999 operatives and police officers, medical experts, an uncertain shopkeeper, a loyal – but hilariously nasty – sister,  and the aggrieved (or aggravating?) girlfriend. The judge gave a studied and fair summing-up, and then it was over to the jury. Was Attleborough (currently serving four years’ imprisonment in Ipswich jail for GBH) guilty of Manslaughter? The jury’s excitement was palpable as they argued with each other. Guilty – he’s a wrong ’un. Not Guilty – the medical evidence isn’t strong enough. Guilty – he stabbed her in the abdomen. Not Guilty – the baby was born two weeks after the attack and he didn’t intend to harm it. So the arguments flowed this way and that, all showing how much evidence the jurors had absorbed. Finally, the vote was called and the verdict was announced. Not Guilty: 44; Guilty: 25. So the defendant was free – to return to jail.

With the verdict delivered, it was the turn of our learned guests to speak about the Moot. All agreed that it had been of a very high standard. Mr Justice Beaumont made some valuable remarks about procedure. Mr Justice Bevan commented on how very convincing barristers, judge and witnesses had been. The Rt Hon Sir John Waite echoed these statements, asking how many schools would take time out of a busy curriculum to undertake such a worthwhile endeavour. He ended with a clarion call for us all to consider the value of the Rule of Law: This is the administration of Justice; this is an embodiment of the British tradition of fair play; this is the Rule of Law on which all our liberties are founded. And how hard and terrible a life it would be for us all if the Rule of Law did not prevail as it does in this country.

Quite. And to judge from the enthusiasm of the participants and audience alike, Moots – and all the benefits which they bring – are here to stay at Woodbridge.

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