State school pupils have benefited from a project by the Government Legal Service and Crown Office to give them a chance to find out about public law and the possible careers it offers


“Your Future in Law” was a week-long law school held for state school pupils during the school half term break. The project was a joint venture between the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS) and Crown Office.

The objective was to give students an opportunity they might not otherwise have to find out about public law, and what a career in public law and central government might involve. Research has showed that students with a state school background are generally under-represented among those studying law and working in the legal profession in Scotland. We decided to run a pilot year for 15 to 20 students and target state schools in Edinburgh. Twenty one students took part, aged from 15 to 17 years and from 12 different state schools across Edinburgh.

Law for real

A series of workshops on the first day by the Scottish Government Legal Directorate and the Office of the Advocate General (both part of the GLSS) covered who makes the law, how policy becomes law, and the importance of human rights in this process. The students had a go at drafting their own smoking ban legislation with help from the Office of the Scottish Parliamentary Counsel.

The students spent the second day at the Scottish Parliament, where they held a mock parliamentary debate on social media and the internet in one of the Parliament’s committee rooms. They had a tour of the Parliament and heard from solicitors from the Office of the Solicitor to the Scottish Parliament.

On day three the students turned to crime and spent a day at Crown Office, where Principal Crown Counsel Alex Prentice QC took them through a day in the life of a High Court prosecutor, including how COPFS is using computer generated images and other multimedia presentation techniques in court to present evidence to juries in the clearest and most understandable way possible. They heard from Lindsay Miller, head of COPFS Serious and Organised Crime Division, about the forensic analysis and evidence gathering involved in the investigation into the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie; from Malcolm McBain, deputy head of COPFS International Cooperation Unit, about extradition and international assistance; from Ruaraidh Macniven, head of Civil Recovery Unit, on cash seizures, and from Alison Di Rollo, senior advocate depute and head of National Sexual Crimes Unit, on sexual offending and social media exploitation.

In addition to these talks on the varied aspects of law encountered in the criminal courts, the students heard from lawyers and trainees about what it is like to work for COPFS and got to ask questions about careers in COPFS.

Playing the part

The Court of Session was the location for day four. The students took a guided tour of the court and learned about the difference between the civil and criminal courts. The highlight of the day was a mock trial which the students conducted in court 1. This event in particular proved very popular, with the students really getting into character. So much so that the student playing the judge at one point informed counsel that if they addressed her as “Your Lordship” one more time she would hold them in contempt of court! We were very grateful to Lord Woolman who gave an inspiring address to the students before the mock trial.

On our final day, Lindsay Jack and Melanie Smith from the Pathways to the Professions Project at Edinburgh University informed the students about UCAS applications, studying law and the delights of the student union. The Pathways project encourages progression by under-represented school students (including those whose parents or carers have not previously attended university) into professional courses including law. GLSS trainees then spoke about their experiences studying law and starting out in the profession. The students were also given a talk by lawyers in the Legal Secretariat to the Lord Advocate and the Legal Secretariat to the Advocate General about what life is like as a Law Officer in the Scottish Government and the UK Government.

The Lord Advocate attended the closing ceremony and gave an engaging and very well received speech before presenting the students with certificates of participation in the course.

“Better than holidays”

We had excellent positive feedback from the students, who thoroughly enjoyed the week, and in particular the parliamentary debate and mock trial. The vast majority of students felt that the course had made them think about pursuing a career in public law or had reinforced their desire to take up law (and public law in particular) as a career. Many of the students were not aware of the opportunities that a career in public law held prior to attending the week, and seem to have been inspired. We felt the project had really achieved its purpose when the feedback comments included “Thank you for the opportunity to see what law is really about”; and the ultimate accolade, “Well worth giving up my holiday for!”

This pilot having been a success, we are hoping to run the law school again for students in other parts of Scotland. Watch this space...

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