Visiting a local courthouse with a high school law class is often the first contact students have with the court system. With OJEN’s flagship Courtrooms & Classrooms program, visits to the courthouse also present opportunities for young people to connect with legal professionals such as judges, justices of the peace, lawyers and court staff. Each year, tens of thousands of young people get an up-close look at the justice system in action at more than 70 participating courthouses in Ontario.
In London, courthouse tours have been offered to students visiting the London/Middlesex Courthouse for the past 10 years. About a year ago, the London OJEN Committee, headed by co-chairs Justice Marc Garson and Matt Reid, decided to explore ways to make visits more engaging and educational. Over the summer of 2017, a working group of lawyers and court staff began meeting to plan a new program: a mock guilty sentencing scenario. In the fall of that year they piloted and fine-tuned the scenario, a case about sending intimate pictures in a student relationship. A judge, Crown attorney and defence lawyer present the scenario, interspersed with commentary to explain what they are doing and why. The new program was officially launched in March of 2018.
The Mock Guilty Sentencing Scenario Program
Jason Hatch, a law teacher from Strathroy Collegiate Institute, is enthusiastic about the new London program and says it is very popular with law teachers in the region. And the students love it!
The visit begins with a court service officer guiding the class to the courtroom. Before the mock sentencing presentation, the students receive a brief introduction to the types of cases heard on different days and are given a chance to check out the jury box, Crown and defence tables, witness box and judges’ dais. The mock guilty sentencing is a highlight of the visit.
“The students appreciate that the judge and lawyers use language they understand and break down the sentencing process, so the students know the rationale for what’s happening. The Crown and defence explain that, although they appeared to be adversarial during the trial, in many ways they shared the same goals. The judge explains what factors go into his decision, the flexibility and leeway he has in setting the sentence, and what might have led him to a different outcome.”
“The mock sentencing demonstration happens immediately before the class visits actual court in session, so they can apply what they’ve learned to what they see in the courtroom,” he adds. “Bridging the gap between theory and application was fascinating.’
Since the first guilty sentencing scenario was introduced, two more have been added: one on cyberbullying and another on driving impaired from cannabis. School groups have the choice of which scenario aligns best with their program or class interest.
Tracie Campbell-Wilson organizes the tours which run twice a week. She also schedules the volunteers, including the Court Services Officer, to guide the tour. Currently she has a roster which includes 3 members of the judiciary (more will be added when the new scenarios complete testing), 10 Crown and 3 Federal Crown and 14 defence counsel.
Congratulations to the London/Middlesex OJEN Committee for creating such an exciting and informative Courtroom activity for students!
For more information about OJEN’s Court Visits program, click here.