Students shine at Supreme Court social mobility event — despite taking harsh criticism from Court of Appeal judge

Judges prove just how out of touch they are, again

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Three lucky students had the once in a lifetime chance to practice their advocacy skills in front of two of the country’s top judges last Thursday — and it’s safe to say that judges have very high standards.

This was all part of the Supreme Court Judgment Review, a project hosted by social mobility charity Big Voice London — the same guys that brought us the Model Law Commission.

The whole point of the programme was to give the 35 student participants, all state school educated, the chance to think analytically about the law. After a two hour workshop, the A-level students were tasked with writing a 1,200 word report on whether they agreed with the outcome of one of three recent Supreme Court decisions: Evans, Rhodes and Roberts.

It goes without saying that these are hardly run of the mill cases. Speaking to Victoria Anderson — the charity’s director — during the event, even she admitted that the judgments, especially in the Evans case, are “really, really complex”, and she was impressed that the students were able to grapple with these meaty legal issues — as was I.

The best entrants — as picked by Anderson and co — had their chance to play barrister, and present their arguments to a packed out courtroom in none other than the Supreme Court. Lord Justice Vos — a Court of Appeal judge — and Mrs Justice Asplin — a High Court judge — were tasked with the unenviable job of picking a winner.

It’s difficult to do anything but commend the finalists — Kyieron Clarke, Charlotte Llewellyn and Andrew Wolckenhaar — who all had a good stab at incredibly difficult case law, and were very brave to put their legal knowledge and advocacy skills out on the table for two of the profession’s biggest names to see.

That’s why it came as a surprise to me that the trio were given such a grilling by Vos and Asplin after their presentations. All three were faced with pretty challenging, off the cuff questions about their respective cases.

Speaking to the first presenter, Andrew, after the event, he told me that the questions came as a total surprise. I was particularly taken aback that at the end of Charlotte’s presentation — which was heavily focused around the Article 10 issues raised by the case of Rhodes — Vos questioned her about the case’s Article 8 implications. If my 16 year-old self were put on the spot in this way I would have had no idea what Article 8 was.

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All three did incredibly well to hold their nerve, but in the end it was Kyieron that stole the show. A young, black teenager himself, Kyieron drew on anecdotal evidence from his personal experiences of stop and search policy when discussing the human rights implications of the Roberts decision. Maybe this is frowned upon in legal practice — as Vos was all too quick to point out — but from a viewer’s perspective it made his argument much easier to listen to and much more persuasive.

He rightly won, but when it came to announcing this, the judges went about it in — what I thought was — the most gut-churning, cringiest way possible.

Vos and Asplin decided to score each presentation publically out of 10 based on four categories — legal accuracy, cogency, written presentation and oral presentation — giving each finalist an overall score out of 40.

And they didn’t go easy on them, even the winner. I jotted down phrases like “not brilliant”, “woolly” and “you didn’t handle that well”. Lowlights included a snarky remark about one student’s presenting style being “undesirable” and getting “boring very quickly”.

The highest mark scored was a nine, and that went to Kyieron for his cogency. He was then was told that his presentation was “the only one that packed a punch” — which I’m sure delighted the other two finalists. And though I’m not all too sure that he meant it in this way, Vos seemed to suggest that Charlotte and Andrew had taken the easy way out by agreeing with the Supreme Court, and made an interesting comment about him — as a Court of Appeal judge — liking it when people take aim at the Supreme Court.

Far more resilient than I was at their age, the finalists seemed to brush off the criticism and were in good spirits after the event. Kyieron — the overall winner with a score of 30 — told me that he’d only had limited time to prepare his presentation because of illness and exams, and that he felt very nervous about the whole experience. The aspiring criminology undergrad was really surprised that he’d won, and was feeling chuffed about the new addition to his CV.

Speaking to the runners up, they were extremely positive about the whole thing too. Andrew, who came in third place, was particularly sturdy. When I asked if he regretted picking what me and Anderson thought was the toughest case, he told me that he had “no regrets”, and that he felt ready to grapple with tough legal problems in the future.

The achievements of these young, bright students shouldn’t be glossed over: they crafted their own legal arguments and put together a 10 minute long presentation, on legal issues even practising lawyers would struggle to understand — and I think Vos might have forgotten that. His unduly harsh comments could really have shaken up the finalists. But — at least from the impression I got — they all took it on the chin, and that’s testament to them and the brilliant Big Voice London team.

If Vos got anything at all right on that evening, it was when he said this:

There simply are not enough organisations out there doing work like this.

26 Comments

Anonymous

“Three lucky students had the once in a lifetime chance to practice their advocacy skills in front of two of the country’s top judges last Thursday — and it’s safe to say that judges have very high standards”.

It’s practise, not practice. It’s a noun, not a verb.

(28)(19)
Anonymous

In fact, it is both a noun and a verb.

Practice is the noun; (to) practise is the verb.

If you have to be a pedant, at least be correct with your pedantry.

(43)(3)
Anonymous

I meant in the context in which she used it, hence quoting her…

(3)(7)
Anonymous

In the context she used it it’s a verb, so you’re both wrong.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

I saw this. I also saw Neuberger threatening to ‘kick in the shins’ of anyone who changed the height settings on his chair.

(33)(1)
Just Anonymous

Oh Katie. You were doing so well earlier. Now you’ve returned to drivel again.

The whole point of tough questions is to test both the competitor’s skill and the quality of their arguments. Like it or not, courtroom advocacy is a cut-throat profession, where, if you’re not up to the job, you will drown. There is nothing wrong with firm but fair feedback, so that competitors can better understand their weaknesses – or stop wasting their time and consider another career if their skills are simply not up to it.

(33)(7)
Anonymous

This article could do with some hamsters dressed as barristers or something.

(33)(2)
Ducks Ducks Ducks

I would like to see a wide selection of ducks dressed in court regalia, and perhaps wearing monocles.

That, in my view, would be cutting edge journalism; not this pile of dross.

(12)(2)
Mr Pineapples

Good article – interesting analysis.

Can’t believe some of the comments on here about it: snidely and mean spirited.

I remember my time at Bar school and we received criticism from the off – but it was not in public glare like this competition; the judges could have tempered their criticisms.

(12)(16)
Not Amused

“not brilliant”, “woolly”, “you didn’t handle that well”, “undesirable” and getting “boring very quickly”.

Are you entirely sure he wasn’t addressing the Supremes themselves?

I don’t think anyone expects kid-glove treatment and it doesn’t sound as though the young people themselves were upset. If anything “because I got a savaging from a judge” is a brilliant reply to the question “why do you want to be a lawyer?”.

(18)(0)
Gladiatrix

I assume you meant to say ‘publicly’ rather than ‘publically’.

You have also failed to understand that the two judges paid the students the compliment of treating them like genuine practitioners, rather than patronising them by not providing constructive criticism.

It’s a pity that the Editor of Legal Cheek also doesn’t seem to understand the concept of applying constructive criticism before allowing an article like this to to be published on the site.

(17)(3)
Just Katie please stop

So they got constructive criticism and that is somehow bad?

The fact that the competitors were held to a high standard can only be good for them. They will go away knowing exactly what to improve – what is the point of all three being told they were good? What do they learn? Absolutely nothing.

Also great to see state school kids being given the opportunity. I was at an independent school and when we held debates etc we were always told what we did well and what we didn’t and we were all better for it.

Too many in the state sector are unwilling to engage in constructive criticism and it does a real disservice to the kids.

Good on those three – hope they have a great career ahead of them!

(14)(2)
Anonymous

I was present at this event and I can safely say that Vos was very supportive of the young people participating. He asked pertinent questions of the students who responded with confidence and none of whom raised any grievances with Vos. Saying that he is out of touch is absurd. We should make a positive example of any senior jurist who is prepared to give up their free time in supporting the cause of disadvantaged young people, not admonishing them.

Perhaps Katie King should focus on the brilliant achievements of these young people rather than seeking to write an article with an ill informed and poorly judged angle.

(22)(2)
Anon

Vos has been involved in and has supported the Social Mobility Foundation for many years. He was Chairman of its trustees before he went to the Bench. Not sure whether he was able to continue thst volunteer role subsequently, but his participation in this exercise suggests his commitment to doing something about social mobility. Are any of the finalist participants complaining? How good to get feedback and attention from that level of the judiciary, time that will have been their own and not part of their taxpayer funded working hours. A lot of unnecessarily mean comment in this thread too.
(Now expecting self-important grammar and spelling pedants to mouth off…)

(4)(0)
Chancerypupil

What so they should have just given them a sticker and gone “well done”? Surely the whole point of this exercise was to give the children a real insight into mooting? Why shouldn’t the judges have behaved normally? I think it would have been much more valuable. It is just patronising to assume that “inner-city state school kids” needed pandering to. I was one such student and would have loved to do this, and would have felt that it was a waste of time if they had just praised us ad nauseum.

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Anonymous

Why frame this as a state/independent thing? Surely the point is that they were 16-18 year olds with no legal education beyond A-level. Or at least I took that to be the point the writer was making.

(4)(1)
Chancerpupil

I framed it as such because if this had been an article about the Haberdasher Aske’s Harrow legal sixth form supreme court debate, I don’t think the same criticisms would have been made. I mean she did specifically point out that there were “all state educated”. You know full well that it was used as a loaded term. Why mention it at all?

(2)(0)
Newburger LJ (with fries)

We’re all winners here!

Now let’s all have a sweetie and play a non-competitive game to avoid upsetting the LOOOOOOOOSERS!!!!’

(0)(0)
Newburger LJ (with fries)

We’re all winners here!

Now let’s all have a sweetie and play a non-competitive game to avoid upsetting the LOOOOOOOOSERS!!!!’

(1)(0)
Anonymous

A poor piece of journalism: stylistically mediocre, not proof read, and predictably partisan.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

I know one of the finalists and he said it was amazing! He enjoyed being put in the shoes of a Barrister and both the judges were so kind. He also told me that Lord Vos spoke to him for ages and wouldn’t let him go without saying “you are an incredible young man and you’re gonna go far”.

Lord Vos actually reminded him of Lord Alan Sugar because he seemed very scary at first (with his very constructive criticism) but he is simply a kind hearted person that wants the best for all those that hope to go down the same path he has successfully been able to go down.

He told me that Lady Asplin was very kind and clearly had an interest in young people, she spoke to my friend as if he was a legal practioner and they both were in deep conversation about the case he chose and just like Lord Vos, she gave amazing feedback.

He also met a handful of Barristers and Solicitors and they were also so kind and gave many firm handshakes; they also offered sound feedback and advice.

My friend who I love deerly, is a very hard worker and the judges could have made the most undesirable comments (which they didn’t) but he still would take those comments on board and fight so that one day, he could wear a wig and a shiny gold jacket.

(7)(0)
Anon

Just regarding the photograph of Lord Vos, are you allowed to take flash photography in court?

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