Taste the Teeming Earth
The journey of Steiner Academy Hereford’s Justice Team as runners-up in the National Final of the Citizenship Foundation’s Bar Mock Trial Competition, Edinburgh, March 2015.
“There is a commerce between inner and outer, between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world. Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth. Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments?”
Lines from “Open the doors” by Ewin Morgan, Scots Makar, written for the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 2004.
As the Justice Team journeyed to Edinburgh at the end of March it was perhaps unforeseen moments that framed the students’ experience the most. The ‘nooks and niches’ of Scots Makar Edwin Morgan’s declamation to the Scottish Parliament in 2004 echoed these unforeseen moments, these unusual treasures. Our erudite guide to Holyrood had explained the vision of its architecture as leaves unfolding from a branch, boats atop a wave. Having arrived in Edinburgh a day before the competition, and not due at the Central Library for a final practice until that afternoon, the team ventured down Cowgate rather than the Royal Mile on their way to Parliament. Morgan had described that journey as going towards the ‘midst of things, not set up on a hill with your nose in the air.’ And such a journey reflected the strange social ecology of the Steiner team, no head boy or girl, no uniform, no hundreds of students from which to draw.
The team had participated in the Magistrates Court Mock Trial competition last year, making it only to the regional heats. They had now won through to the national final of the Bar Mock Trial competition back in November 2014 by winning the regional heat at Queen Elisabeth Courts in Birmingham. Barrister Emma Edhem had broadened the team’s perspectives at that point by tracing a path from criminal law to international law and the dance of nations it tended. Such broadening of perspective is the central dynamic of this competition, amidst the minutiae of legal wrangling and the hierarchies of league rankings. Teamwork, public speaking, analysis. All of the judges in Edinburgh offered this richness of experience in their presence, their conducting of business, and their summings up. To hear the wisdom of Leveson, Kerrigan, McConnachie, and Rae in person was perhaps one of the most potent niches of the team’s days in Edinburgh.
Lord Justice Leveson was surprised to hear that the team hailed from a small, single stream school, and that the students were rising 15s. Most of the teams from the other 186 schools who had entered the competition were rising 17s and 18s. Throughout the competition there was both high drama and serious legal wrestling with issues and evidence. In the grand final itself, the principal witness’s credibility was brought into question due to the humble nature surrounding the circumstances of their birth, (they were raised in a woodland). Our collective understanding of justice clearly has some way to go if the word of a dweller automatically holds more credibility in a court of law. Maybe it is no accident that this team had also been drawn to the recent lecture in Hereford by the international barrister Polly Higgins. In her campaign for instituting ecocide as a 5th crime against peace, she cites the possession of land as one of the principal wrong turns of our civilization in its capacity to fulfill a meaningful role as stewards of the Earth.
Steiner Academy Herford’s Justice Team with (L-R): Robert “Judge” Rinder, Rt Hon Lord Justice Leveson, The Hon Lady Rae, and Mr Mark Mulholland QC.
The choice of ITVs Judge Rinder to present the prizes was a great opportunity to expand the appeal of the competition, but may also have been a signal that theatricality was a high value commodity on the day. It is also no accident that a reduced exposure to television within the wider community of a Steiner school meant that the team itself was more aware of Lord Justice Leveson. He took time with the Hereford students to congratulate them on the tenor of their participation and the sophistication of their advocacy, urging Alex Murdock and Louie Ablett, the advocates he saw in the final, to pursue legal careers.
As finalists of this UK competition, the Steiner team are eligible for the Empire Mock Trial world championship in New York in October, but such a prospect is beyond the financial prospects of a rural state school, as well as the challenges of undertaking such a journey within the final GCSE year of the class. But to journey to the seat of the UN . . . . to engage with international contenders . . . and to represent Hereford on a global stage . . . I’m sure the students would enjoy any attempts at persuasion. It may be that it is within a later stage of their education that student competitions at the International Courts in Europe enable their burgeoning visions for ecology, social justice and true international security, to then bear fruit. And again, in the words of Edwin Morgan, that bold mandate from the teeming earth might yet speak to them: “Don’t let your work and hope be other than great.”