Adding to the long list of events that have transitioned to a virtual format for the second year in a row, sits the annual Moot Court Competition for Grade 12 law students at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).
Whether online or in-person, the annual event continues to provide students with an unmatched experiential learning opportunity of what a real Court of Appeal hearing would be, even in the current pandemic.
“Overall, I thought the Moot Court Competition was extremely fun and well run,” says Ellis Grange, Grade 12 SMCS student and member of the Appellant team. “It really made me go beyond my comfort zone as I haven’t really presented in front of a bench of judges before.”
Now in its 18th year, the competition provides law students with the opportunity to participate in a mock appeal hearing.
“Last year, as a result of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and our transition to a remote, online learning model, there were some obvious changes that had to be made in order to keep the Moot Court Competition on track,” says Kevin Shaughnessy ’00, SMCS Guidance Counsellor and co-organizer of this year’s competition. “Since students were unable to present in class and given the time constraints and technological limitations at that time, I had the students video record their respective presentations and legal submissions.”
Shaughnessy then sent the videos from the top two appellant and respondent groups to the Honourable Mr. Justice Hugh O’Connell, who was involved in the previous year’s competition, to review and select a winning team.
“This year, given the advances in technology provided by the school and the Basilian Fathers, we decided to make this competition as realistic as possible,” says Shaughnessy. “Through the Zoom webinar format, we were able to mimic a Court of Appeal hearing exactly as they would be heard in our current COVID-19 lockdown reality. In a normal year, the final competition is held at school in front of a live panel of judges. Since that was not possible, we wanted to provide the students with a genuine and realistic experiential learning exercise.”
The competition was adjudicated by the Honourable Mr. Justice Mark Edwards, the Honourable Mr. Justice Hugh O'Connell, and the Honourable Mr. Justice Michael Quigley. The appellant team was made up of Grade 12 students, Gianluca Cudizio, Ellis Grange, and Marshall Hinojosa. This year’s respondents were Yafiet Teame and Mwanyumba Ng'ang'a, also in Grade 12.
“There are a lot of moving parts with an event like this. First and foremost, we need to remember that most of our students have never even heard of a Moot Court Charter Challenge before taking this course,” says Joe Tropea, SMCS teacher and co-organizer of the competition. Over the course of the school year, Tropea and Andrew Rossi, a new history and law teacher at SMCS this year, helped prepare the Grade 12 law students for the event.
“The instructional component tied in nicely with our Criminal Law and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sections,” says Tropea. “Additionally, there are a fair amount of practice runs in the classroom where we try to teach the students about proper courtroom etiquette.”
On May 13, 2021, the day of the Moot Court Competition, students delivered their prepared arguments live in front of the panel of judges.
“The judges were ready with challenging and thought-provoking questions to afford the students an opportunity to further defend their respective legal positions,” says Shaughnessy. “After hearing all the arguments, the panel of judges briefly deliberated to determine who the Top Advocate was, and which team won the overall appeal.”
In a split 2-1 ruling, this year’s winning team was the appellants.
“For the finals, I wanted to add counters to arguments made in the semi-finals, however, this was easier said than done as the opposing team had made arguments that were really hard to break,” says Teame. “I overcame them by taking a lot of time and looking for loopholes in certain laws and finding different sections that applied to the ones we were meant to focus on.”
“All the finalists were extremely well prepared and handled themselves professionally in submitting relevant legal arguments and answering challenging questions by the judges,” says Shaughnessy. “The split decision stands as a sign of the dedication, hard work, and effort presented by all student finalists. The judges were extremely impressed with the arguments, submissions, and level of advocacy displayed during the competition.”
Teame was selected as this year’s Top Advocate. His name will be added to the ‘Shaughnessy Cup’ and he will be awarded the St. Thomas More Legal Advocacy and Shaughnessy Family Award at graduation in June.
“He was well polished in every aspect,” says Tropea. “The way he carries and conducts himself in class and during written submissions is the exact same approach he took during the competition. I believed there were a few students who could have been named Top Advocate, but what separated Yafiet from the rest was over the past few months every time he presented, he was becoming a more polished and profound speaker. I could see his confidence building with each new presentation.”
“Congratulations to all of the finalists on a job well done!” adds Tropea. “Everyone set the bar high and exceeded expectations. You have left some big shoes to fill for future law students.”