Pupils give Leith court trial run after 90 years of silence

IT’S a far cry from the case of a £2 betting dispute in 1909, a row over the “custody” of a pony in 1886 and the imprisonment of two Swedes for possessing Bolshevik pamphlets in 1920.

But the long-forgotten Leith Sheriff Court has been brought back into action after 90 years to hear a much more 21st- century legal dispute – a disputed mobile phone contract.

The court, situated above Leith Police Station, was closed in 1920 when Edinburgh and Leith officially merged and for decades has been hidden away behind a locked door.

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But the former court’s grand lofted ceiling and wood- panelled walls once again echoed to the sounds of legal debate as 450 city school pupils took part in a mock trial competition.

The youngsters, from seven schools in Edinburgh and the Lothians, battled against each other in a case which centred on a mobile phone contract – not something which would have troubled the courts in the early 20th century.

Organised by law firm Morton Fraser and debt recovery specialists Chamberlain McBain, the Edinburgh Primary School Mock Court Case ran preliminary trials in both Edinburgh Sheriff Court and the former Leith Sheriff Court to give pupils a real life taste of the court room.

Norman Farrell, of the Leith-based Chamberlain McBain, managed to secure the use of Leith Sheriff Court after discovering its existence while researching venues.

He said: “I was trying to find somewhere we could hold the finals as it needed to be somewhere that holds between 450 and 600 people.

“In my research I came across Leith Sheriff Court.

“I had no idea it was there, despite coming from Leith.

“It’s basically a court room above the police station that’s been locked up and never used since the 1920s.

“I contacted the police to see if we could use it and we were able to hold some of the cases there.

“One Edinburgh sheriff, George Way, agreed to sit in the cases on the condition that he could sit at Leith because it would be the only chance he would have to do that.”

Jim Tweedie, of the Leith Local History Society, described the court as a “hidden gem”.

He added: “It used to be the council chamber so when Edinburgh and Leith merged, there was no need for it any more.

“It was the Sheriff Court as well because they could bring prisoners right up from the cells in the police station.”

The mock trial which brought Leith Sheriff Court back into action came to its conclusion on Friday in front of Lord Hope, deputy president of The Supreme Court.

Pupils from three schools – George Heriot’s in Edinburgh, Loretto in Musselburgh and Cornbank St James Primary School in Penicuik stood before Lord Hope in a bid to get him to rule in their favour and be crowned overall winners of the mock trial.

Mr Farrell said: “The case itself had to be something that the kids could relate to so it is about a woman who bought a mobile phone for her grandson and took the company to court over the contract.

“The kids had to prepare cases for the defence and prosecution and re-enact the case playing all the parts. It compliments the Curriculum for Excellence and includes all subjects.”

Lord Hope added: “Scotland has an excellent legal system of which we can all feel very proud.

“People everywhere need to know how our courts work and why they are there.

“There is no better place in which to bring this message home than our schools.

“That is what this imaginative project has been designed to do and why it is to be commended.”