UCT’s budding legal eagles soar at moot competition

22 October 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Read time 5 min.
The annual intervarsity competition was hosted by the UCT Moot Society, based in the Faculty of Law. <strong>Photo</strong> <a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo/activity-board-game-connection-desk-613508/" target="_blank">CQF-Avocat / Pexels</a>.
The annual intervarsity competition was hosted by the UCT Moot Society, based in the Faculty of Law. Photo CQF-Avocat / Pexels.

After a nail-biting final round, the University of Cape Town (UCT) emerged victorious at this year’s Kate O’Regan Intervarsity Moot Competition, which took place on Saturday, 17 October.

UCT’s budding legal eagles Yuri Behari-Leak and Justin Winchester took dual honours: they were the overall winners of the competition, and the best speaker award went to Behari-Leak.

Yuri and Justin
Yuri Behari-Leak and Justin Winchester after being announced as the winning team. Photo Supplied.

Another team from UCT, Kudzaishe Mukunga and Delela Ndhela, made it to the semi-finals. The runners-up were Stellenbosch University’s Corlia Kritzinger and Shanaié Maharaj, with the other semi-finalists, Rebecca Kuttschreuter and Camilla Johnson, coming from the same law school.

Joining the UCT teams were students from the University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University, the University of Fort Hare, the University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University and the University of the Free State.

Both teams from UCT and two from Stellenbosch University successfully argued their way to the semi-finals, which were adjudicated by judges Moseneke, Sachs, Vincent Saldanha, David Unterhalter (former professor of law at UCT), Ashraf Mahomed (an adjunct associate professor in public law at UCT) and Lee Bozalek.

The moot competition is named in honour of UCT alumna and former Constitutional Court (ConCourt) justice Kate O’Regan, who presided over the final round. Joining Justice O’Regan for the finals this year were, for the first time in the competition’s history, three other former ConCourt judges: justices Albie Sachs (also a UCT alumnus), Dikgang Moseneke and Edwin Cameron.

And in another first, this year’s intervarsity competition was hosted on the online platform Discord, with the finals taking place on Zoom.

International criminal law

The competition, which is now in its fourth year, was sponsored by one of Africa’s biggest law firms, ENSafrica (Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs). The event aims to gather students from the country’s law schools to compete against each other in written heads of argument and oral argument. It also aims to encourage students to grapple with a legal topic outside of the core syllabus.

The four former Constitutional Court judges who adjudicated the finals, justices O’Regan, Sachs, Moseneke and Cameron. Photos UCT.

This year’s theme was international criminal law, and the legal issue was whether secret forces that were complicit in the abduction and murder of anti-apartheid activists were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sachs the entertainer

Despite the challenges of adapting to online events, and of managing a group of esteemed judges and law students from seven of the country’s finest universities, the UCT Moot Society organising committee managed to deliver on their mandate: to foster a culture of mooting in the law faculty and to encourage students to develop and perfect their skills within an inclusive and fun atmosphere.

The organising committee members are:

  • Mufudzi Chikwete, chairperson
  • Jewel Ormond, vice-chairperson
  • Natasha Theunissen, secretary-general
  • Valentina Di Savino, treasurer
  • Kerah Hamilton, events coordinator
  • Kudzaishe Mukunga, events coordinator
  • Lucky Nkosi, sponsorship liaison.

In addition to successfully fostering a culture of mooting, an inclusive and fun atmosphere was certainly achieved. According to the committee, Justice Sachs was the main source of entertainment for the day.

Justice Albie Sach
Justice Albie Sachs provided plenty of laughs during the rounds. Photo Supplied.

Hamilton said that the highlight for her was “definitely” Sachs teasing O’Regan, saying that “she has to preside because, technically, she was admitted as a judge [onto Zoom] three minutes before him”. Chikwete had a laugh when Sachs told his grandson to “stop playing games and using the Wi-Fi so that he can adjudicate” while Ormond’s favourite part of the day was witnessing Sachs and Moseneke arguing about who had the “coolest shirt”.

For Theunissen, the highlight of the competition was being able to see four former ConCourt justices interacting with each other while they discussed the winning team.

“The respect they have for each other is evident and the value they place on each other’s opinion, while remaining neutral, is impressive,” she said.

“Besides that, it was incredible, the [sense] of accomplishment that we felt as a committee to be able to run such a large competition on online platforms and still provide an experience beyond imagination for the participants. All in all, it was the highlight of my role in the committee as well!”

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