The public gallery is a great resource for law students and it is worth popping in to get a real sense of law in action.
Scottish courts are public buildings and anyone can attend. Almost all trials are open to the public so that justice can be seen to be done. My friends (and fellow law students) and I took a trip to Dundee Sheriff Court during the winter break.
Before we arrived, we checked the court rolls at scotscourts.gov.uk to see what was happening that day. The courts website has lots of great information which is useful for understanding the Scottish courts system (covered in the first year Foundations of Law module). When we got there the staff at reception were happy to point us in the right direction and let us know what was going on.
Spending time at court is an invaluable learning tool and you can access both civil and criminal cases. Sitting in the public gallery allows you to observe court speech and etiquette (handy for building your mooting skills which are assessed in first year) and see how advocates and sheriffs interact with one another. We heard a witness answer the question ‘can you identify that person in this courtroom?’ and on a previous court visit I have seen a vulnerable witness give evidence from behind a screen. These points are taught in Criminal Law & Evidence but observing real life procedure makes it more tangible.
There is nothing like going to court to reinforce what you are learning at uni and it can be exciting to see the action up close. But it is important to remain respectful. This is especially so in criminal cases. We saw several individuals receive their sentences, including terms of imprisonment. These are real people receiving life changing news and at times losing their liberty. Those affected, the family of the accused for instance, may be sitting next to you in the public gallery or indeed in the waiting area outside the courtroom.
Following our visit, we moved onto a café to chat about the experience. Something we were all agreed on is that, although undoubtedly a fantastic learning resource, sitting in the public gallery can feel voyeuristic. A visit to court not only fleshes out your legal studies but also reminds you of the lives behind the interesting case details. Be mindful of this and you can get a lot out of a visit to the sheriff court.