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Online course shines light on Ireland’s legal system for TY students

Online course shines light on Ireland’s legal system for TY students

TY students given opportunity to examine the legal system

By Teresa Mannion

Regional Reporter

The Bar Council of Ireland has adapted its Transition Year programme for students interested in pursuing a career in law and moved the course online.

Normally there is a limit of 100 pupils taking part each year, but the pandemic has meant that the five-week course is now online, with over 10,000 pupils signed up to it.

Chief Justice Mr Frank Clarke outlined the role of the courts, judges, and lawyers in Ireland’s legal system and said that apart from being of interest to students who want to pursue a career in law, this information provides an overall understanding of the country in which we live.

He explained the role of the chief justice and the function of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in Ireland.

Coláiste Éinde in Salthill in Galway is one of 320 schools across the country participating in this year’s TY course called Look into Law.

TY co-ordinator Anne Collins said that as a DEIS school the online programme is, for them, the “upside of Covid”.

Anne Collins said the online course ‘levels the playing field’

She said: “It really levels the playing field. All 66 of our TY students are signed up to learn about how the legal system works. Normally just one student might be fortunate enough to travel to Dublin for the week-long course, which caters for 100 students maximum. Now everybody is afforded this wonderful opportunity to learn about the law over five weeks.”

The school sends on the link to each module every week and students can study alone or as part of a group.

Coláiste Éinde TY student Robert O’Reilly, 16, said the modules are enjoyable and delivered in a user friendly way.

“The presentations from experienced legal experts and young, up and coming barristers, is very interesting. There are quizzes as well to test your knowledge on what you have learned,” he said.

Robert’s sister Amy is a final year law student at NUI Galway and said the programme for TY students opens the door to thousands of students, many of whom might not have considered law as an option before.

Robert and Amy O’Reilly

The online videos have been kept short with reflection pieces throughout. The advice is to take notes throughout and do some more research into areas of particular interest. It is recommended that students interact with others to discuss what they found engaging and interesting.

The TY course covers a broad range of material from explaining civil and criminal law, breaking down legal terminology and showing the importance of good communication skills in the courtroom. Students also get a virtual tour of King’s Inns where barristers do their training. 

Mary Griffin is the CEO and Under-Treasurer at King’s Inns.

She said: “It is where you learn to become a barrister, learning to speak up for people in a court and put forward the best argument you can. You learn to become an excellent communicator. You learn to think quickly on your feet, to solve problems and most importantly, you learn how to advocate, not only for the rule of law but also for issues in society.

“If you don’t want to work in court standing and presenting in front of judges, barristers have lots of other careers. They work at Facebook, Twitter, in the Central Bank, in Survey Monkey and in RTÉ. Many of our graduates also work with the EU courts, EU Central Bank and the European Commission.”

Amy Hughes has been a barrister for just four months. 

“I’m the first in my family to go to third level education, so it was a feat to make it happen. I went to school in St Dominic’s in Cabra and then I did an arts degree in UCD. After that I did a Masters in Law and then I worked for a few years to save some money and do the post graduate diploma in King’s Inns. Then I did the Barrister at Law programme.

“I took the scenic route because I didn’t get enough points in the Leaving Cert to do Law originally. It was a challenge but the important thing I would say to any Leaving Cert student is that grades are important but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the results you were hoping for. There are so many other routes.”

Many of the legal professionals contributing to the TY programme are from all walks of life with previous careers. There’s a pastry chef, a paediatric nurse, a banker, a pharmacist and a former prison officer.

John Warden spent 30 years working in Mountjoy Prison before becoming a barrister, working mainly in criminal law.

“I suppose you could say I was called to the Bar from behind bars!

“Mountjoy was a very challenging place and the main problems that I experienced was the overcrowding, the drugs and the emergence of the gang culture. 

“I think this is one of the reasons why I do what I’m doing now as I was attending trials in court, sometimes handcuffed to an inmate, other times just escorting.

“I was also a representative of the Prison Officers’ Association from 1994 to 2009 and one of the functions was to represent members in disciplinary hearings, some of which ended up in the High Court,” he said.

Mr Warden said his experience in the prison service has stood him well in what he does today. 

“It was always a concern of mine that my prison service background would come against me, but it has transpired to be the opposite case. At the Bar I have a new life and a new purpose and there’s a great sense of collegiality.”

He said: “A prison officer is required to respect the dignity of all inmates entrusted to their care and custody regardless of what they have been convicted of. There is an old saying ‘Do not judge others until you have walked in their shoes’.”

He said he is regularly asked how it feels to represent people who are guilty.

“I don’t get to decide to act for people who I think are worthy. Everyone is entitled to a defence. It is not for me to decide if they are guilty. It is for a jury. If their guilt is obvious, they will be convicted. Most people plead guilty anyway. And I would urge people to remember that those who pour scorn on defence lawyers would find their sanctimoniousness vanish if they were ever wrongly accused of something.”

Maura McNally SC, is Chair of the Bar Council of Ireland, and her overriding hope is for continued diversity and equality in her profession.

“We see diversity everywhere in society. It’s a good thing, it’s progressive and means we’re moving forward. It doesn’t matter what your colour is, your creed is, whether you’re male or female. You are a person and your personal rights are there to be protected.

“The career or profession which does its utmost to protect that is the Bar of Ireland. So if you feel deeply about issues such as human rights, constitutionality, about issues that affect you now or will affect you as you grow older, if you feel protecting and achieving rights is something for you, then I believe the Bar of Ireland is the place for you”

She said that the King’s Inns has programmes for people who may feel they cannot afford to pursue such a career, with mentoring and assistance available for anyone who has a passion for a future in law.

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