County and Supreme Court excursion – Unit 1 Legal Studies

The Unit 1 Legal Studies class took an excursion to visit the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria last week; Ms Emily McMahon and her students have put together the below reflection about the day.

We arrived excited and eager to start the day and were met by Judge O’Neil’s associate, Bethany who escorted us to an empty court room. Judge O’Neil had made time in his busy day especially to speak to our students (being a former parent, he has a soft spot for our College).

Judge O’Neil provided our students with his personal insight into the key features of the legal system. He shared his opinion of the recent changes to the legal system – such as the positive change that the Koori Court has had in reducing recidivism – as well as some key facts about the County Court, for example, there are 65 judges and approximately 40% are female; there are around 12,000 cases per year, half of which are civil and half are criminal; and of all the criminal cases, approximately 75% of those accused, plead guilty. Judge O’Neil also spoke about the Separation of Powers being a cornerstone to the legal system whereby a judge is autonomous in the court room and not influenced by the government of the day’s agenda.

Students were encouraged to ask questions and students took full advantage of this opportunity with questions such as “what are the good parts of being a judge?”, “do you get along with all other judges and barristers?”, “when you (Judge O’Neil) were a solicitor and barrister, which did you prefer?”, “what was your most harrowing case?” and “have you ever fallen asleep in court?”. The answers were very engaging and entertaining. Judge O’Neil’s longest judgement was 150 pages in length; when asked when he completes these judgements, he explained some time is provided during the day but work also needs to be completed early in the morning, weekends and on nights as well. The students were shocked when they established that judges also have ‘homework’. 

Students were able to observe two cases in the County Court.

Case one involved a worker who was allegedly sexually assaulted and harassed at work and was suing her employer for Vicarious Liability and Negligence as she felt her workplace was responsible for the original incident and subsequent victimisation and lack of support after the alleged event. We heard opening statements by both the plaintiff and the defence. After the plaintiffs opening address, we felt the plaintiff should receive everything she sought and deserved better treatment from her employer. After the defences opening statement, we all felt that the woman handled the claim badly and that the employer wasn’t to blame. Very persuasive lawyers!

Case two involved a person pleading guilty for stealing over $700,000 from her family and friends through misrepresentation (false invoicing). It appears she and her husband were accountants and claimed to be successful investors. Over a period of many years, they told their family they were investing their money but instead spent their money on themselves. It was most entertaining to watch the judge clearly exacerbated by the defence lawyer often shaking his head and covering his face with his hands. One of the students said that they believed they could be a better lawyer than the defense lawyer that we witnessed.

In the afternoon, we were escorted to an empty Supreme Court room. We met Martin and Victor – who are court network volunteers – where they discussed with us the role of the Supreme Court in obtaining justice. They shared some facts with us such as: there are 50 judges in the Supreme Court and 16 court rooms and of the 43 trial justices, eight are female. When in the court room, students were chosen to act as court personal. Sophie was the judge’s associate, Ryan was a barrister, Kerrera, Lauren and Clare were jury members, Alex was a witness, Molly was the tipstaff and Jonah was the accused in the criminal dock. Students had great fun moving around the court room imagining a possible future career in the area of the law.

The third case that we saw in the Supreme Court was a case involving the murder and dismemberment of a woman by two offenders. We arrived to watch closing statements by the defence. The first offender was found guilty of murder (as he had a history of beating his girlfriend and was found guilty of bashing the victim). The second offender (our case), helped the first offender to load the victim in his ute, drive the victim to a second location where he then shot her five times before helping “dispose” of the body. The prosecution claims that the intent was to make sure the victim was dead – therefore, regardless of whether the victim was dead or not, his intent indicates he should be found guilty of murder. The defence claims the victim was already dead so his client should be found not guilty of murder. When we entered the court room, our students were very excited, especially as they wanted to see the accused in the court room. When the defence was providing his closing arguments, most of the students found it difficult to pay attention to what he was saying – the defence was not clear in his explanation and students found it hard to maintain attention for the whole time! They found that what they see on television and what happens in an actual court room are two very different realities.

We then were escorted to the Supreme Court library where we were able to look at precedents that were written in the mid to late 19th century and see where lawyers and judges go to access legal resources. Only one student touched the very old and delicate volume of precent! Overall, a great day to be immersed in the legal system.

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Student’s reflection:

Overall, Thursday’s experience was very educational and beneficial. Being able to go to the courts and see how the cases are actually played out, seeing the information the barristers present and how they present differently between County and Supreme Court, it showed that it is definitely different compared to the American courts and TV shows which emphasise barristers, judges and offenders.

– Kerrera

I had a very enjoyable day; I really enjoyed hearing from Judge O’Neil. It was also interesting to sit in on some of the cases involving sexual assault but it was unfortunate that we weren’t allowed to stay to hear the victim’s statement. I also enjoyed watching the case where the women had stolen $700,000 because it was quite entertaining when the judge was ‘roasting’ the defence lawyer. I also really liked when we got to sit in the different seats in the court room in the Supreme Court. However, I didn’t find it very entertaining when we were listening to the murder case. The lawyer had one tone when he talked and I could hear him speaking but I couldn’t make out his words very well. Overall, I had a great day and I did learn some new things!

– Sophie

Overall, it was a great day. I enjoyed both the County and Supreme Court and being able to sit where a jury would sit in a trial. It was cool to see how a civil and criminal trial was run as well as seeing a criminal case in the Supreme Court that I had read about on the news.

– Gabrielle

Thursday was an insightful excursion; it was interesting to see how the court functions as well as to see how it is in reality compared to the shows on TV – it was not as dramatic or interesting. It was also good to see the processes in the court room and how it’s conducted.

– Georgia

I loved the excursion, I found it extremely interesting to see what goes on inside of the court and the processes involved. It was interesting that the County Court was far more exciting (in my opinion) to watch than the Supreme Court although the murder case sounded like it would be more exciting to watch on paper. It was far less dramatic than it is shown to be on TV; I’m really glad we had the opportunity.

– Lauren

I really enjoyed the whole excursion (even with the security checks). It was really interesting to see how many facts and little details that needed to be accounted for in a case. I think being a barrister would be a really interesting and challenging and I believe I would want to do it when I’m older. Thank you for the day Ms. McMahon, it really did open my eyes about the courts and all the different job opportunities available when finishing law school.

– Alexandra-May

I really enjoyed the excursion, thank you for giving me the opportunity to see how courts work and seeing courts first hand. I particularly liked the tour of Supreme Court room.

– Jonah

I was really glad we got to go to the food court as well as the Supreme and County court. Also, going to a court yard that was literally a yard in a court. The Supreme Court’s architecture was really impressive, and how the courts are set up and run. Talking to a judge and listening to his perspective was also quite impressive.

– Ryan



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