The Australian Red Cross and ALSA host the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Mooting Competition during the annual ALSA Conference. The IHL Moot's purpose is to raise awareness of international humanitarian law issues within the Australian university community. The Moot assists students in understanding and appreciating the growing importance of international humanitarian law, its nature as a system of protection during times of armed conflict and its role as fundamental part of international law.
Each law school in Australia is invited to nominate a team of two law students to compete in this competition. We encourage you to contact your campus law student society for more information on how you can represent your university in this competition
Personal Reflections from the ALSA IHL Moot
Alice Zheng – Alice is a solicitor at Clayton Utz and was Tipstaff to the Honourable Justice Ward of the New South Wales Supreme Court in 2012.
In 2009, I represented the University of Sydney at ALSA. I competed with Matt Kalyk in the International Humanitarian Law Moot, which we won. The ALSA Conference 2009 was held in Brisbane, which was still nice and (comparatively) warm in July. I thoroughly enjoyed both the conference and participating in the competition and consider the experience to be one of the highlights of my time at law school.
Matt and I had been selected by a committee of the Sydney University Law Society, based on our previous mooting participation in internal and other intervarsity competitions.
The competition was pretty rigorous. We had at least one moot every day for the preliminary rounds and a number were scheduled at 9am in the morning. We had done some preparatory work before we came, but because it was right after end-of-semester exams, it really wasn't more than just printing off the cases which were suggested reading in the problem question. Once we got there though, we dedicated most of our time to preparing. We made sure we were across all the issues and facts, rather than what we would be dealing with as Senior or Junior Counsel. That way, we were in a better position to provide each other with feedback when practising, and with assistance when dealing with questions during the moots.
We had some assistance from other members of the University of Sydney contingent, who would stage practice moots for us. In particular, on the night before the semi-final, two of the guys on the General Moot Team, Ryan and Dave, came to our rooms to judge a practice moot, which started around 11pm. We were all in our pyjamas and Matt and I mooted using an ironing board as a makeshift lectern, while Ryan and Dave drilled us over and over again. I think practice is the most important part of preparation, as you get a sense for how persuasive the submissions sound when made aloud and for areas of weakness, either in your case or in your presentation.
There is a lot of received wisdom as to how a competitor should approach preparing for a moot and then should conduct themselves in the course of a moot. Instead of providing more general advice, I will discuss a few things I thought were important and which arose from the particular structure and rules of the IHL Moot.
The IHL moot retained the same set of facts throughout the entire competition. The problem question also directed us toward the relevant case law, so in that sense, the amount of legal research required was reduced and all the competitors referred to the same legal principles and cases in their submissions.
This meant that the most critical thing was to know the facts well, especially because there weren't a lot of them! At the end of the day, once you knew the general legal principles, you needed to convince the judge that the facts supported the legal position you were putting forward. And sometimes, the key to that would be stumbling on a word or two in the facts which you hadn't appreciated before.
In my experience, there were definitely times a helpful fact went further than discussion of the proper legal principle. The IHL Moot, with its 30 minutes time constraint on the whole team, meant you had to really think about how to make your points in a very succinct way. Getting caught in a debate as to the nuances of the law sometimes resulted in a barrage of questions from the bench, and the result of the debate was not always necessarily favourable to your position. On those occasions, a much more effective and persuasive approach was to identify something in the facts that supported the position. In my year, I remember the moot question contained a number of facts which were, on their face, quite neutral and not necessarily helpful. The role of the advocate was therefore to present them in such a way that they seemed to unequivocally support your case.
The best advice I ever received during my years of University mooting was that you were most persuasive and best received by a bench when your presentation and the case you put forward was, above all else, eminently reasonable. This was definitely consistent with my experience of the IHL moot. It was important to never get rattled or aggressive in response to a hostile or interventionist bench, but to deal with all the interruptions as though they were relevant considerations which had already been taken into account, and therefore, were either consistent with, or did not hurt, the position you were putting forward.
In the same vein as above, it is of course also important while preparing for the moot, to consider all the possible questions which might be asked. As the same moot problem was used throughout the rounds, it can be vitally important to write down all the questions (particularly the difficult ones) which are asked of both sides in one moot, and then to fashion an answer to them in preparation for the next moot.
As the facts stayed the same, once Matt and I had split the legal issues between us, we were essentially making the same arguments (with some refinements) round after round. Therefore, I think it is also important not to get bored with your presentation. I tend to think if you're bored, then the bench will also be bored. One thing I did to keep it fresh for every round was that I would throw out the last set of notes I prepared (they were never very long) and draw up something new to speak to. It also forced me to think everything through again.
Personally, I also thought it was important to get away from moot preparation in order to say refreshed. In 2009, between the preliminary rounds and semi-finals, there was a day without any competitions scheduled and a trip was arranged to Dreamworld. Going out, getting away from the moot problem, and talking about something other than the moot, was probably the best decision we made throughout the entire competition!
After the ALSA IHL Moot, Matt and I were offered an opportunity to represent Australia in the international competition. Unfortunately, both Matt and I were otherwise committed at the time and weren't able to take up the opportunity.
Overall, I gained a lot from my experience during the moot. My experience was that the ALSA IHL Moot was incredibly well-organised and a really valuable experience for any budding advocate to compete and refine their skill set. Most of the competitors, including myself had no experience with international humanitarian law before. You gained the experience of learning a new and unfamiliar area of law and getting on top of your facts in a short period of time, which are always valuable skills in the practice of law. The judges were also well prepared and came ready to interrogate your submissions, so you also refined your ability to structure a coherent and persuasive argument and to support it orally.