Deakin Law School’s (DLS) Geelong-based team takes home the trophy and gains real-world courtroom skills.
Law students from Deakin’s Geelong Waterfront Campus have taken out top spot in the 2019 Freemasons Victoria Moot Competition.
Making their presentations before three justices from the Supreme Court of Victoria (their honours Justice Priest, Beach and Taylor) the Deakin team – Brody Wons, James Royce and Nathan Schwarz – won two preliminary rounds against five other Victorian law schools before defeating RMIT in the grand final to win the ‘The Honourable Austin Asche AC QC Trophy’.
The Freemasons Victoria Moot Competition is now in its second year and co-convened by DLS student Michael Pavlidis and Jack Aquilina, a Senior Consultant at EY and previously a Senior Associate at the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Michael explains it was his own enjoyment of mooting that inspired him to establish a ‘high-quality, reality-replicating’ court of appeal simulation for his fellow law students.
‘The trophy is named after His Honour Austin Asche AC QC, His Honour was Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria and an eminent jurist of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. I have always considered him an inspirational figure whose achievements – professionally, personally and masonically – are unrivalled and I wanted to bring His Honour to the attention of my fellow students to demonstrate the heights that can be reached,’ he says.
The DLS team’s moot ‘problem’ was based on an historic sexual offending matter involving four charges.
James says their challenge involved the jury’s conviction on some of the charges but acquittal on others when the circumstances of offending were similar.
‘As the prosecution, we had to defend the verdict reached by the jury and carefully apply the facts to distinguish between the different instances.’
Because there were decades between the offending and the complaint, he says they also had to deal with absence of possible key witnesses and evidence, and whether that absence amounted to an unfair trial and the possibility of an overturned conviction.
‘This involved various submissions on how to deal with the deterioration and absence of the evidence given the passage of time and how the court is to consider that in the particular matter.’
The competition covered three rounds (over four months) and presented a variety of problems including interlocutory, sentence and conviction appeals.
Because Brody had competed in the inaugural 2018 moot, he invited James – who’d participated in a number of internal DLS moots – to join him for the 2019 team while Nathan was recruited for the final round as “instructing solicitor” along with DLS senior lecturer Dr Nicole Siller as the team’s academic mentor and advisor.
Brody says preparation began by reading and summarising a large number of cases so they could gain an understanding of the basic principles and structure of the law before preparing their submissions.
‘Once we developed a basic understanding of the law we then split the submission writing. I took first ground of appeal while James took the second … Nathan then assisted us with the preparation of submissions.’
Nathan says the team’s preparation was intense, occupying most of their time outside work and study commitments.
‘From the start we identified a list of tasks which we needed to complete to aid our preparation for the Moot. Then we developed a timeline with a series of deadlines for those specific tasks over the month leading up to the final.’
He adds that one of the key milestones was developing a clear understanding of the law on which the appeal was based.
‘This involved reading the landmark appeal cases on this ground to get an idea of which aspects of our facts were most helpful or detrimental to our case.’
As instructing solicitor, Nathan developed summaries on as much relevant case law as possible before briefing James and Brody on research that would help strengthen their appeal arguments.
With all three juggling heavy work and study commitments (each is also a Deakin student mentor with the Faculty of Business and Law) James, Brody and Nathan agree that the most challenging aspect to the competition was the time and endurance it involved.
‘By the time we reached the final we had been mooting for four months (with only short periods of down time) which included exam and assignment periods. The time commitment was constant,’ recalls James.
Leading up to the final, Dr Siller ensured the team underwent rigorous preparation by continually testing the strength of their arguments during moot practices.
‘We were fortunate to have Dr Siller assist us in our preparation and are very thankful for her assistance. I believe the fact that we worked extensively on anticipating questions from the bench strengthened our case immensely during the final,’ says Nathan.
Each of the DLS team believes that participating in moots provides a unique and important learning platform.
‘The most rewarding part for me,’ says Brody, ‘was the opportunity to further develop my advocacy skills whilst receiving constructive feedback after each round and having the opportunity to appear before three justices of the Supreme Court.’
For James it was having the opportunity to prepare submissions that ‘represented weeks of work’ before fielding questions from both the opposing counsel and the bench.
‘I’ve gained great confidence from the work that I had prepared standing up under pressure and my ability to go beyond prepared submissions to provide further detail when required,’ he says.
Nathan describes the competition as a ‘fantastic opportunity’ to test his legal skills and take part in new experiences.
‘Mooting truly tests your legal research skills in a way which an assignment cannot because you need to be able to anticipate questions from the bench and justify your legal arguments in responding to them.’
As co-convener, Michael says the Freemasons Victoria Moot Competition delivers a remarkable, real-world learning experience.
‘It provides a very rare opportunity for students to appear before a real Supreme Court of Victoria, Court of Appeal bench - something that doesn’t usually occur before many years of professional experience and knowledge has been attained. The encouragement, advice and direction provided by the bench represent real and significant value.’