In an innovative approach to experiential learning, Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and Juris Doctor (JD) students deepen their understanding of the criminal justice system, working alongside Psychology students who are studying the role of expert witnesses in the industry and community engagement unit.
“In this unit, students examine the criminal trial as an emblematic representation of state power, asking questions about its role in society, its integrity, and the details of its process,” says Professor Simon Rice.
But the theory combines with practice, and designing the unit means starts with staging a criminal offence.
By arrangement, a store is robbed in front of witnesses; the police are called and the witnesses interviewed. Three months later, the accused is prosecuted and defended by teams of law students, who question eye witnesses, the police, and expert witnesses.
“Usually students run simulated trials based on a hypothetical scenario. In this unit we take the process further, actually re-enacting an offence and running the prosecution from where it starts, from the occurrence of the offence,” Professor Simon Rice explains.
“This means the students have to work with the messiness and uncertainty of real-life experiences and recollections, as well as interacting with police and expert witnesses to build their case.”
The University of Sydney students work closely with the NSW Public Defenders and NSW Police at Surry Hills, culminating in a trial before a current or former NSW judicial officer.
“This is an invaluable experience for our participating young constables,” said Senior Constable, David Waters.
“The learning happens both ways. From the perspective of training our police officers, there is a big difference between talking about court, and being in the box answering questions for the first time.”
“By working with the University of Sydney, we have access to a new level of training for a some of our young cohort, which provides a much richer learning experience.”
Dr Celine Van Golde, Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, was co-lead on the unit. She says experiential learning such as this is providing a fantastic opportunity to prepare future leaders.
“Psychology plays an extremely important role within legal system, but there is often a disconnect between professionals,” says Dr Van Golde.
“Legal and psychology practitioners can contribute a lot to each other if they understand how valuable each other’s knowledge is, and how to work together to bridge current professional divides.”
This trial and unit has been one of the best and most practical units that I’ve taken at the Sydney Law School.
“We’ve worked closely with public defenders, the police and psychology students, to understand all elements of criminal trial, and engage in an experience that mimics as close as possible to a real-life trial.” – Rob Deppeler, LLB.
“The experience has allowed us to learn and see how things work in real world of practice outside classroom. It was especially rewarding to have a former judge come in and give us advice, even during trial, on things like what he would object to, how we should handle evidence.” – Shakira Harrison, LLB.
“This has been a great opportunity to be involved in the application of psychology, especially in something so interesting as seeing how experimental psychology, rather than clinical psychology, can be used in a forensic legal context. We have gained so much insight into the ways in which law and science and psychology are different, and the ways in which we’re taught to think, which is very different.” - Raphael Uricher, Bachelor of Psychology (Honours).
This was an amazing experience. It was a unique and valuable opportunity to talk to police, mock expert witnesses and get practical experience you wouldn’t normally get in law school. Overall it was a fantastic time.
The unit first ran in 2019 and is offered again in Semester 2, 2021.
Other experiential units at Sydney Law School include the Public Interest Law Clinic, the Law and Social Justice Clinic, Indigenous Engagement, and Law Reform.