On Tuesday 1 May, our Unit 1&2 Legal Studies class attended the County and Supreme Courts to see the law in action.
After arriving, the students had the opportunity to meet and discuss the role of being a County Court Judge with Judge O’Neill. Judge O’Neill reflected on his duties in upholding the law, some recent changes within the law, and the challenges facing the legal profession.
The students asked excellent questions; Isobelle W asked if Judge O’Neill had always worked in the County Court and Tia asked if he had always wanted to be a lawyer, while Maddie inquired whether judges were allowed to be tattooed, and Bridget asked if Judge O’Neill ever judged someone famous. Isabelle wanted to know if he has ever bumped into people in the community who had previously appeared before him in court, and Ben wanted to know whether he had set any precedents through his decisions. Darcy inquired about his view on juries and if he ever disagreed with a jury’s decision and Ryan asked about hostility in the court room. Judge O’Neill and his associate Carla commented on how interesting and thoughtful each of the questions were.
In the County Court, the class observed a plea hearing for a person found guilty of drug cultivation.
Later, in the Supreme Court, students had the opportunity to participate in a role play. The case involved Ryan hypothetically killing Sam in a schoolyard incident. Maddie ran the court room as the judge’s associate and Angus signed in witnesses as the tipstaff. Georgie gave a stirring opening statement as the prosecutor and Robert asked very probing questions as the defence counsel, with Isobelle being the witness giving evidence. The legal associates were Lauren and Megan, with Isabelle, Bridget, Darcy, Lizzie, Tia, and Ben acting as the jury. It was a really great learning experience for everyone involved.
While visiting the Supreme Court, the students also observed a witness giving evidence about an alleged murder. Overall, it was a very informative and interesting experience for all of the students, offering them a first-hand view of the legal system in action.
Each of the students wrote reflections from the day and have shared them below:
Lauren – I thought today’s experience of visiting Victoria’s Supreme and County Court was amazing. I had never been to any of the courts before and was so surprised by the layout if the courts, the way the courts were furnished and especially the court proceedings themselves.
The highlights of the day were talking to a real judge in the County Court named Judge Chris O’Neill and observing a witness in a murder trial. Honestly, I wish we had more time to finish the cases and hear more. For example, in the drug case we didn’t hear how many years he was imprisoned for. Also, with the murder case, we didn’t get to hear the facts of the case (how the victim died) and if the accused was going to be found guilty or not. Something I found interesting was the way in which evidence was going to be presented to the jury in the murder case. It was a good day and it’s definitely opened my eyes into the interesting world of courts.
Tia – I really enjoyed going to visit the courts. Seeing the courts on the inside was amazing, especially the Supreme Court. The County Court was like I imagined it would be but the Supreme Court wasn’t, there seemed to be a lot more activity at the County Court and I was surprised by the amount of cases heard there. It was surprising that the County Court has a lot more security than the Supreme Court though the Supreme Court did seem a lot more intimidating. Talking to Judge O’Neill was really interesting. Sitting in the Judge’s chair in the County Court felt different than sitting in the other chairs but I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed watching both cases but I would have liked to know what sentence the judge gave in the County Court. I found the case in the Supreme Court to be more interesting and I was surprised that the witness was going to be recorded then shown to the jury. I was also surprised by how unprepared the prosecutor seemed since he kept saying “um” and coughing a lot. Overall, I enjoyed the day a lot and though it was a great experience.
Maddi – I really enjoyed the courts excursion, I found our talk to judge O’Neill in the County Court really interesting and loved the feeling of respect and power that you feel sitting in the judges chair. My favourite bit was the mock trial in the Supreme Court and getting to be the judge’s associate (which would be a pretty cool job) and looking around the court buildings and library. I found both the plea and witness hearing we watched interesting but preferred the Supreme Court hearing as it was a more complicated case and was super interesting.
Georgie – I think that the best part of the excursion was the court case we recreated in the Supreme Court. Mainly since it was fun to play the roles instead rather than be told about what the roles would do. I enjoyed the whole day though.
Megan – I thought our court excursion started off well; I found talking to a judge really fun and interesting but I struggled to stay focussed in the first court case because I couldn’t really hear everything that was being said. I found the afternoon session much more enjoyable, especially getting to quickly act out a hypothetical situation. I learnt about the Separation of Powers and that we have that so each division can make a decision without the influence of another division. This prevents division doing secret deals. Learning about Judge O’Neill’s process of becoming a judge was also quite fascinating.
Ben – My favourite part of today’s excursion was seeing the start of the trial in the Supreme Court. I think that was because it’s one thing reading about the Supreme Court and the procedures, but to see it in person was really different and cool. I could pick up on the atmosphere, and hearing the accused’s handcuffs, I found it really thrilling.
Lizzie – I enjoyed talking to a real judge and being able to ask personal questions as well as formal ones. Getting to see the difference between the County Court and the Supreme Court was also really interesting.
The highlight of the day for me was taking part in the role play scenario (playing roles such as the accused, tipstaff, the jury, etc.). It created a serious mood which we could reflect on when watching the cases. I learnt about the tipstaff and their role in court, I learnt that robes represent dignity in the court and they must be respected, that in the County Court there are 12,000 cases that take place per year with half being civil cases and the other half being criminal cases, and also that in the County Court there are 70 judges.
Bridget – I think the courts excursion was a really good experience for our age group and knowledge of the law as it was not confronting and we understood what was happening in court. It educated us as a whole in more depth of the courts operation. I also liked how we visually learnt and understood all perspectives of the court order.
Darcy – I really enjoyed the day at the courts. It was really good to experience actual cases and to be immersed in a legal environment.
My highlight of the day was sitting in the County Court Case. I enjoyed this more than the Supreme Court Case because we were able to hear more of the facts of the case and I liked the fact that we were sitting so close to the action.
Angus – I really enjoyed the courts excursion. My favourite part was the Supreme Court trail we witnessed. It was good to see the way the courts work in a real life atmosphere rather than what we see in movies and TV shows.
Robert – My highlights of the day were sitting in on the plea hearing, as it was the most interesting legal case I had ever seen. Although it was a little disheartening not to hear the sentencing as it is happening the next week. The trip to the Supreme Court was also a highlight as inside the court rooms was a change from the County Court and the library was magnificent on the inside.
Ryan – On the day, I really enjoyed being involved in the court rooms. The County Court was good as we got to meet a judge who was very friendly. The Supreme Court was also interesting because we were able to enter the library, watch a real murder trial, and do our very own murder trial role play for fun. Overall, I loved the day.
Isobelle W – I really enjoyed our experience on this excursion and I feel like I learnt a lot going to the different courts. It has encouraged me to keep up my studies and keep trying as the possibilities in law are high. I had a really good day and I discussed it with my dad afterwards and we are planning to go in the public area and watch another case.
Samuel – I found the courts to be a very quiet, calm, and structured, not what you see in the movies or on Judge Judy. I was expecting it to be more exciting than what it was and it irritated me that we didn’t get to hear the verdict on the second case. I found it very insightful though and learnt about the roles that people can work in and how they affect the court room.