But thankfully it was not what it seemed – the youngsters were taking part in the 2012 Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition.
The event saw pupils from two borough schools and two Newcastle schools take on the roles of lawyers, witnesses, magistrates, court staff and a defendant in a specially written criminal case.
Its aim is to give the children the chance to learn about the procedures and sentencing powers of magistrates’ courts, as well as getting to meet those who work in the courts on a daily basis.
And South Shields Community School saw off competition from Hebburn’s St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive School, Newcastle’s Excelsior Academy and Kenton School to win the area heat.
The pupils, aged between 11 and 14, played out a case about a teenager accused of handling stolen goods after an attack on a local newsagent’s shop.
Community School teacher Emma Chipchase, who organised the event with fellow English teacher Philippa Clafton, was proud of her pupils.
She said: “We spent a lot of time preparing for the day, going over the scenarios and getting our witnesses and prosecutors ready.
“The magistrates took a long time deciding who had won because they said the standard was so high, but we edged it because of the children’s performance.
“The pupils all loved it and were really looking forward to getting to court. It was the first time we’ve entered it and it was fantastic to get through, the children were amazing.
“They put a lot of hard work in and I think it showed.” The pupils from South Shields Community School will now learn a new scenario before taking part in the regional final at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court in May.
If they are successful in that round, they will take their place in the national final in Nottingham.
South Tyneside magistrate William Marriott said: “It was a closely-fought competition between all of the schools and they all performed with great enthusiasm.
“They all thoroughly enjoyed the day, even enjoying the experience of being in a courtroom and learning how a court runs.”
The competition is organised by the Citizenship Foundation in partnership with the Magistrates’ Association, local magistrates and court staff.