It is now three years since Mark Heywood as High Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 2011 initiated the Getting Court project in Gloucestershire, and it is quite clear that the project has succeeded beyond expectations. It has received praise from the Resident Judges, the Probation Service, the Police and Crime Commissioner, the teachers from the participating schools and, most importantly perhaps, from the students themselves. In the first three years approximately 700 students from 30 educational establishments have attended the sessions.
The number of under 21's in prison in June 2013 was 7,138 (Offender Management Statistics (Quarterly), Ministry of Justice). The cost is huge, human as well as financial, and efforts to guide young people away from crime are essential. Getting Court relies on the participation of good people who have the desire to help the young, whether they are heading down a path that will land them in front of the Judge as a defendant, or heading towards a career as a Court Clerk or Barrister.
Getting Court is now available in South Gloucestershire and High Sheriffs in other Counties are looking to start similar models. High Sheriffs have always been associated with keeping the Queen's Peace and in modern times continue to support the judiciary by providing a non-partisan, civilian link to the local community, and to local institutions such as magistracy, the police, probation and prison services and other voluntary services. The High Sheriff is in a unique position of influence and independence.
Courts are encouraged by the Ministry of Justice to engage more with the communities they serve. The common aim of Community Engagement is to improve public confidence in the Criminal Justice System. It is recognised that the more people play an active role in supporting their own justice system, the safer their communities are likely to be and the more engaged members of the public will be in reporting crime, coming forward as witnesses, volunteering as magistrates and understanding that our justice system is second to none.
The Project promotes greater interaction between Gloucester Crown Court and Gloucestershire Secondary Schools by organising visits to a working Crown Court. These visits are both educational and cautionary. While some focus is directed at "challenged schools", all students who visit the Crown Court will be invited to think about their own roles in fostering justice by engaging, with knowledge and without fear, in the processes by which justice is administered; to consider the effects on a defendant of one stupid, or perhaps intentional, act resulting in a custodial sentence; to see for themselves the effects on the injured party of a burglary, a violent or sexual attack, or fraud; to understand that it is their Court where they can see that justice is done in public, and that they do not have to take matters into their own hands.
There is a programme of Court visits each month for up to 26 students from one, or more likely several, schools which is organised by the Liaison Officer (contactable in the first instance through the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire's website) who will make the necessary arrangements between the Court and the schools.
Students are likely to be drawn mainly from Years 9 & 10, and the Crown Court will attempt to arrange court listings which are suitable and educational for visits by this audience.
Visits such as these are strongly supported by the Court and each session is likely to be prefaced by a briefing from court officials and an address by the sitting Judge. There will normally be an opportunity at the end of the sitting for the Judge to explain any matters of interest and answer any questions.
'Getting Court' provides a suite of lesson plans and resources which fits into the existing PSHE & Citizenship part of the National curriculum. This resource has been carefully tailored to respond to the curriculum in a way which will also provide an introduction for both teachers and students to the heart of its purpose which is to attend a working Court to see and hear the sometimes harsh realities of the criminal justice system being played out.
The High Sheriff of Gloucestershire's Fund (HSGF) funds Getting Court with the substantial assistance of the Gloucestershire PCC Fund. The costs of the Liaison Officer, printed materials and teaching aids are paid for by HSGF, and schools may apply for a contribution towards transport costs in special circumstances.
After three years, there are now too many people who have helped the project to name all of them individually, but specific thanks go to the following for their invaluable support over the years:
For further information please contact: