Legal students impress in moot court contest


The moot court contest in progress

The case on trial was the real-life case of Patrick Sopha v The Republic, whose sentence for the murder of France Henriette was successfully set aside in the Court of Appeal last year.

UniSey’s moot exercise was mirrored on the case to see whether the students, armed with their own legal arguments and oratory skills, would achieve the same results against a fresh bench of judges.

Dr Jaggadishen Chelumbrun, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Seychelles, said the exercise was meant to simulate real criminal court proceedings.

“The moot activity differs from a mock trial, in that in a moot court we are simulating the appellate court, while a mock trial usually refers to a simulated jury trial or bench trial,” Dr Chelumbrum explained.

“Moot court does not involve actual testimony by witnesses or oral presentation or evidence, but is focused solely on the application of the law, with oral arguments on a point of law,” he said.

“The candidate in the competition wins on his or her advocacy skills, the quality of the argument and the legal research, and not by being correct on the law. It is perhaps the closest experience that a student can have while at university to appearing in a court of law.”

Dr Chelumbrun said the mooting experience could benefit every student, whether or not they planned to follow a traditional legal path in Seychelles.

Shenaz Muzaffer, Charles Brown and Alexandra Madelaine, all seasoned criminal lawyers at the Attorney-General’s office, sat as judges at the mock session of the Court of Appeal. Defense attorney Bernard Georges acted as the usher, and helped to explain the court proceedings to the audience.

Acting on behalf of the appellant were students Kimberley Taieb (senior counsel) and Marcus Gappy (junior counsel), and the respondents representing the State were students Edith Wong (senior counsel) and Kelly Louise (junior counsel).

Nerves served a crucial blow to Mr Gappy, who had the double misfortune of being first to present his grounds for appeal and being underprepared, as he had just stepped in upon the withdrawal of another law student, and the judges were perhaps a little hard in their line of questioning.

The senior counsel for the appellant, Ms Taieb, soon took over with the remaining two grounds for appeal, and delivered some very strong and well-researched arguments about the Supreme Court judge’s direction to the jury and apparently biased remarks made to the jury in his summing-up statements.

The respondents for the State, Ms Wong and Ms Louise, found themselves on the back foot as the opposing side’s argument seemed to be somewhat irrefutable, but Ms Wong in particular made a valiant attempt with an impassioned and logical argument that the judge’s directions were correct.

Ms Louise did not fare as well under questioning from the bench, but this may have been simply because the position she was defending was somewhat indefensible.

At the end of the competition, when the bench had returned to deliver their verdict, the presiding judge, Charles Brown, said that judging the case itself was much easier than judging the winner of the competition.

“First, I just want to say how impressed we were with all the participants. It’s not an easy task to stand up, speak and argue a point to a tribunal that you’ve not met before and before a roomful of people and cameras, and you did it with an impressive degree of competence,” he said.

The presiding judge said that the bench had decided to allow the appeal on a number of grounds, but he said that the fact that he had found in favour of the appellants had little to do with the competition itself.

Each judge gave a critical but fair appraisal of the delivery and performance of the participants, and Kimberley Taieb was judged to be the best individual competitor, while the respondent’s team of Ms Wong and Ms Louise were judged to have worked together better as a team.

Overall, the exercise was deemed to have been a great success, and going forwards the moot court competition is expected to be held in conjunction with the UniSey Fest each year.