Legal Eagles: UWC students triumph in (moot) court
Law students from five of South Africa’s top universities competed in the South African round of the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) from 29 January to 1 February 2015. In the end, it came down to UWC and the University of Pretoria in the final - and the home team emerged victorious, earning the right to represent South Africa in the international phase of the world’s largest and most prestigious courtroom challenge.
The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is a simulation of a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice (the judicial arm of the United Nations). Student teams prepare oral and written pleadings arguing both the applicant and respondent positions of the case - in this case, the legal battles between the Federal Republic of Agnostica and the State of Reverentia over the fate of East Agnostica (those aren’t real places, in case you were wondering).
The final arguments were made before three top legal officials: Judges Robert Henny and Gayaat Salie-Samuels, of the Cape High Court, and Mr Mukund Dhar of White & Case LLP, the sponsors of the tournament.
Hear Ye, hear Ye: How to Win a Moot
So, what was the secret ingredient that won UWC the top spot? Hard work, of course.
“We worked for many months on making sure that every argument is convincing, and that it has a response to the other side,” says team captain (and fourth year student) Kessler Perumalsamy. “There really is no substitute for hard work, effort and determination.”
“We’ve never worked as hard as we did this year,” agrees Pieter Koornhof, UWC lecturer in mercantile and labour law, and the team’s advisor - and a former national debating champion himself. “Everyone gave 200%, and it was as a result of determination, discipline, tons of preparation, and proper strategy and planning.”
The Jessup competition is the largest moot in the world, featuring participants from nearly 700 law schools in over 90 countries. Around the globe, participation is regarded as a great start for a career in law. It’s a unique opportunity for academically gifted and dedicated law students, providing them with the chance to hone their legal skills while being exposed to people from the local and international fraternity.
“The Jessup is one of the most difficult yet rewarding moots to be involved with,” says Pieter. “Former participants have gone on to attain leadership positions and win a variety of scholarships.”
But for the team, there’s more to it than that.
“”My favourite part was presenting our oral arguments before the judges,” says Toni Dammert, who was part of the team in last year’s competition as well. “It’s a sense of adrenaline that words cannot describe. We believed in ourselves and, in turn, managed to convince the judges to believe in us. That’s what makes me passionate about the law.”
“Each part of the process has merit,” adds Hendrik Theron. “But my favourite part would have to be fighting in the trenches - in the courtroom, in heated argument against the opposing team. That’s the most exhilarating part of the moot for me.”
UWC Law students really are passionate about the law, it seems.
“Law presents the opportunity to break down complexities and influence the world,” says final team member Raeesa Ebrahim. “The moments when I stood in front of the podium were great. It’s my dream to practice law for the rest of my life.”
So, what’s Next?
The international round of the Jessup Competition will be held in Washington, DC, USA in April this year. The UWC team - now the SA team - is ready and eager to test their skills against the best in the world - they’re conducting weekly strategy and prep sessions, and even arranging Q&A sessions with local experts . But first things first - they need to secure funding.
“This is a chance for us to represent South Africa in the world’s most prestigious moot competition,” says Pieter. “It would be a great tragedy for lack of funding to stand in the way of that. So, if you know anyone willing to give us money, don’t hesitate to contact us.”
They make a good case - but then, that’s probably to be expected.