How I Brought the Court to My Classroom

Peter Holden’s unique style of teaching both entertains and prepares students

Bridget Stringer-Holden // Contributor

“Order in the court! Mr. Justice Holden presiding. All rise!” announces the student posing as the court clerk. Moot court is now in session. In walks long-time business law professor Peter Holden in his lawyer’s robes, ready to begin class. It has now been 31 years since Holden started teaching. “I think when I first started out I was probably quite boring. However, with the help of other colleagues and just thinking back to that lawyer that taught me, I decided that I had to change my method of delivery,” said Holden. 

“I had no teaching experience, I had legal experience and I had done court work.”  Although that could have proven quite difficult, he used it to his advantage and integrated all those years of practicing law into holding pretend court scenarios in class called moot court. This year, Holden chose the case of Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, which addresses the controversial issue of necessity as a defence for cannibalism. Students were selected to act as Crown Council, Defence Council and the Court Clerk. The rest participated as members of the jury and got to decide the ultimate fate of Mr. Dudley and Mr. Stephens. 

Bringing the court to his classroom didn’t occur to Holden until a few years into teaching. “When I first started, I just stood there and lectured.” Now, he still stands there, but only after walking through the courtroom-like array of desks to his chair to begin proceedings. He invites Crown Council to begin their convincing summation and then allows Defence Council to provide a rebuttal, wondering if their speech will be enough to sway the jury otherwise before they make a final decision. 

Holden’s teaching career began by chance in 1987 at Capilano College, as it was referred to until 2008. “I never intended to teach,” he said. “I did take the same law course that I’m teaching now, at UBC, and it was taught by a most entertaining lawyer, who subsequently became my mentor when I went to law school. And I thought, wow it would be neat to teach that course.” By chance, Capilano College called him years later to ask if he’d like to teach the same course with the exact same textbook. Inspired by the impact of his former instructor, Holden created moot court to engage his students. “My goal was to take a serious topic and make it accessible to students and give them a better understanding. If I could inspire only one student like I was inspired, I’ll feel like I did my job.”

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