The Kovsie First-Year Moot Court Competition: Celebrating 10 years of mooting excellence

May 1st, 2014
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By Inez Bezuidenhout and Joleen Maartens 

In June 2004, the department of procedural law and law of evidence of the faculty of law at the University of the Free State (UFS) devised a moot competition that would be unique in legal education. Not only was it to be for first-year law students but it had to be as close as possible to a real appearance in the South African higher courts.

The mooting format (as opposed to the mock format of competition) was chosen as it was felt that this would reflect students’ research and legal drafting abilities and lay the foundation for good oral advocacy skills. The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), located in Bloemfontein, was chosen as the venue for the competition and retired and serving judges from both this court, as well as the Free State division of the High Court were asked to act as judges in the competition. Rules for the competition and judging criteria were devised and the first competition was held at the SCA in September 2004 with three teams from, Rhodes University, the University of the North-West and the UFS, participating. The competition has steadily grown and is now presented over two days, with 24 teams participating in 2013. The Free State High Court is used in the preliminary rounds and the final rounds are held in the SCA. Members of the legal profession now supplement sitting and retired judges in judging the competition.

September 2014 marks the first decade of the competition’s existence.

Due to the limited number of students who receive exposure from a moot court competition, the UFS makes it compulsory for all its first-year students in legal practice to research and prepare heads of argument, based on the competition set of facts, and to argue these in preliminary rounds before eventual representatives are chosen.

Responding to calls for practical legal education

Law faculties in South Africa are ­familiar with calls from both the legal profession and law students to equip students with practice-orientated training and education. Apart from experiencing simulated real-life court appearance, students are exposed to court etiquette and experience the role and function of the law in real life. Competition rules determine that students do their own research and draft their own heads of argument. Many judges have in the past commented on the high quality of both written and oral advocacy exhibited by first-year students. A substantial number of faculties have reported that this competition has served as an early identifier of promising students who have later proceeded to representing their faculties at competitions like the All Africa Human Rights Moot Court, the Jessup International Law Moot Court and the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court ­competitions.

Inez Bezuidenhout Director: University of the Free State Law Clinic, and Joleen Maartens Senior Law Researcher: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2014 (May) DR 20.

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