Year 10 students get taster of Criminal Law through Summer School Workshop


For any aspiring Criminal lawyer, the case of R v Dudley & Stephens (1884) is one with which you will be familiar.  There are very few cases with such tragic and gruesome facts, involving shipwreck, murder and cannibalism.   For a group of 15 year-10 students, today they had the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of the defendants, lawyers, jurors and judges of the case.

As part of the University’s Summer School, I had the opportunity to take the students through the court process with the help of Ciranne Barrass, a 2nd year law student working with the Summer School.

The case

As a result of a storm in 1884, four individuals found themselves ship-wrecked on a yacht with nothing to eat but two tins of turnips and a caught turtle. As their health started to deteriorate, Captain Dudley proposed killing the 17-year old, orphaned, cabin boy, Richard Parker.  The two other people on the ship, First Mate Stephens and Seaman Brooks initially protested, but Stephen eventually consented to the killing.  Brooks, whilst never endorsing the killing, fed on Parker’s body, along with Dudley and Stephens, for four days until they were rescued.

Upon arrival back in England, Dudley and Stephens were charged with Parker’s murder.  They pleaded the defence of necessity.

Our trial

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Cross-questioning

The case started with persuasive opening speeches, both of which acknowledged the perilous situation Dudley and Stephens were in.  After some tough questioning from both the prosecuting and defence counsel, a group of 5 jury members retired for deliberation.

Summer School Workshop Counsel
Prosecutors and Defence counsel

Having found both Dudley and Stephens guilty of murder, the 3 judges then handed down judgment – they decided to spare the defendants of the death penalty, giving instead life sentences with minimum paroles of 15 and 20 years.

The jury were pleased to find out that in the actual trial, Dudley and Stephens were indeed found guilty, although ultimately pardoned by the Crown.

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The judges and jurors after sentencing

The Summer School workshop gave the students an insight into what life as a law student and a lawyer is like – after some very convincing performances and advocacy, hopefully we will see some choosing law as their career path!

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