Crossing Borders

Max Hardy reports on the UK’s participation in the 2009 International Moot Court.

It sometimes seems that what lawyers contribute to the proper functioning of society is either overlooked or treated with an erosive level of cynicism. It was therefore hugely refreshing to go to The Hague where there is  a very different attitude. The city can lay claim to being the capital of international jurisprudence, being the seat of the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It was therefore a very appropriate place to take part, on 20–21 November 2009, in the International Moot Court (“IMC”). The IMC was founded 12 years ago to coincide with the 750th anniversary of the foundation of The Hague.


The moot differs from what we are used to in English law schools and in the Inns of Court. It is not competitive; given the dangers inherent in gathering lawyers from around the world in one room that may be no bad thing. Instead it is a series of mock trials, each limited to one hour, with roles played by members of the various national teams and by the audience.

In 2009 the UK was represented by HH Judge Alison Hampton, who sits at Northampton County Court, and by a team culled from 9 Bedford Row: Derek Zeitlin (team leader, prosecution counsel and author of the case study), Yogain Chandarana (defence counsel), Julian Bradley (our chambers administrator), Annabel Timan and Toby Cadman (witnesses), Sean Sullivan (clerk, usher and narrator), and myself as defendant.

The theme of the event was “crossing borders”. The English side nevertheless enacted a very domestic burglary case. Demonstrating excellent case management, we completed it all within our allotted hour. The jury made up of other delegates acquitted me by a majority of 160 to 2.

Different legal systems on display

Two rooms in the local Palace of Justice were set aside for the moot, which meant that we were not all able to see every trial. The English team thus missed the American case in which the defendant pleaded guilty halfway through. Although legal costumes of some description are worn in almost every European country, the English robes—both of the Bar and the Bench—inspired envy. Our wigs however were outdone by the splendid robes of the Turkish delegation, with crimson trim and collars that nearly encircled their heads.

Being curious about the workings of a jurisdiction completely unknown to me, I decided to watch the Turkish trial. They, like everyone else, conducted their case in English, which was a real testament to everyone’s linguistic ability. The trial concerned an alleged terrorist being stopped on a bus with explosives in a bag. Witnesses (other bus passengers) wished to give anonymous evidence. One could easily imagine such a scenario transposed to England, especially in the light of the legislation enacted last summer and confirmed in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. What was striking was the familiarity of the approach the court adopted in resolving the question and the high regard it had for the defendant’s right to face his accusers. Anonymity was, none the less, granted. However its effectiveness was immediately called into question as the screens supplied by the court were too short and the witnesses’ heads remained visible regardless throughout their evidence.

Two conspicuous differences were that the whole court, including the public gallery, stood when an oath was being taken, and—more importantly—the prosecutor entered by the same door as the judge and sat on the same level. This also happened in the Dutch trial, where the prosecutor’s desk was placed very close to the judge’s. I was told that the exact space, which was very small, was set down in statute.

A privileged sight

The audience for the moots was drawn from the local student population. By the end of the day, they were in the privileged position of being able to see for themselves the comparative strengths and weaknesses of different systems. Anyone who practises law in this country, in whatever capacity, should have a similar experience. The IMC seemed to be the only venue in which in the course of one day it would be possible to see, albeit in truncated form, how other countries go about administering justice. We often assume glibly that the adversarial system is fairest and best, but we should see for ourselves what the alternatives are.

Watching the Dutch moot, it was striking how peripheral defence counsel’s role appeared to be. This was an arson case, tried by a panel of four judges who directed a good deal of cross-examination—not all of which seemed friendly—to the defendant. His counsel did not object to any of the questions and it was difficult to see in the circumstances how he could successfully have done so. Neither was there a role for the prosecutor—sitting almost immediately next to the judges—to step in on the defendant’s behalf, as sometimes happens here.

There was in addition no live evidence called by the prosecution even though the defence case took a very different view of the facts. Instead, the larger part of the trial was decided on the papers. The manner of the judicial questioning was such as to leave little doubt as to the outcome. One other consequence of a non-jury system of course is that the public is rarely exposed to the workings of the criminal justice system.

Our Dutch hosts were enormously generous, and even provided our accommodation. Proceedings concluded with a large party, including a ten-piece band that provoked even the most senior members of the Dutch judiciary to cast aside professional reserve and throw some shapes on the dance floor. I came away with a high regard for the participating jurisdictions and with a much deeper understanding of what makes us different and wherein lie the strengths and weaknesses of those differences.

The aims of the IMC

The International Moot Court (“IMC”) is organised by the Dutch foundation “Stichting International Moot Court” and is linked to the Dutch Council for the Judiciary. The foundation aims to promote the exchange of knowledge and understanding of various international judicial systems, as well as to stimulate and improve relations between international legal professionals. To achieve this goal, it organises the IMC once every few years. Teams from different countries present a (fictional) court session according to their own jurisdiction. In 2009 there were seven participating teams from Belgium, The Netherlands, Romania, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Court of Human Rights.

The future

The twelfth international moot is due to take place in 2011. The organisers would welcome another English team. Those interested in participating can obtain information from the IMC’s website (www.internationalmootcourt.com) or from myself (e-mail: max.hardy@9bedfordrow.com).v

Max Hardy is a barrister at 9 Bedford Row

Category: