Faculty of Law

Mock Trial: HSE vs Georgetown University

April 17 saw the Law Faculty’s first Mock Trial – a simplified game version of the US legal process. The HSE Law Faculty team faced off an opposing team from Georgetown University (Washington, US) via video-linkup. A representative of the US from the American University also acted as an impartial judge. 

The Faculty was invited to take part in the Mock Trial via a legal clinic. A similar game forms a key part of the professional training in how to represent clients in court, as under the law, Russian law students are not permitted to do this for real. The process also helps students understand how US court proceedings work, right from their initiation through the approach to representing clients and cross questioning witnesses, and how to treat evidence.

An interesting case was selected for the first time. The plaintiff, a senior student from a Washington school, organised a meeting to remember her older brother, who tragically died the previous year, at which her best friend died. Several months later, during an American football game between two schools, she was given permission to hold a memorial gathering, at which she indirectly accused the head of her school of being responsible for her friend’s death.

During the speech she held out her hands with a rosary. Skinner, the school head, was nearby, and went to go onto the stage to take the rosary from her, and a scuffle ensued. The plaintiff was subsequently excluded from school for displaying gang paraphernalia, as rosaries are in the US often used by Latin American street gangs (and there was a well known one operating in that area), as well as Catholics. At the same time, school rules prohibit pupils from any kind of gang-related display.

The court considered two issues: was the complainant’s exclusion from school on that basis justified, and was she responsible for the scuffle that followed? The plaintiff believed the school head should be held responsible, as her actions provoked the scuffle, which formed part of the decision to exclude her.

The case involved opening and closing statements from both sides, and also cross questioning of a witness from each side – the plaintiff and school head.

The first question at first glance seemed hopeless for the defendant, as the First Amendment of the US Constitution is so prized in the US – and protects freedom of speech and religion.

At the same time, there was no proof that the plaintiff was affiliated to any criminal gangs, and her Catholic faith was also noted. In this case, the plaintiff was not appealing to friends in a criminal gang – hoping to start a fight, but was just expressing her religious feelings, and that is what the court decided. She was readmitted to school, but had to admit that she did breech other school rules, including behavior during meetings and public gatherings.

During the process, although the US team had the clear advantage of speaking their native language, and were better acquainted with the US court system, our team displayed their considerable English language skills, their ability to build their argument and follow a line of questioning, which are key skills in the US justice system. They were also confident enough to object, occasionally with success, which was highlighted by the US professors present.

We hope that this first experience will be considered a success by all parties – both sides of the ocean, and similar Russian events will take place as frequently as the already popular moot courts process.

Evgeny Puchkov, 2nd year