Our Founder has taken part in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition for a while now, and this year was no different, despite the Covid-19 restrictions! Annabel discusses her experience in judging the competition in it’s digital format. 

For the last four years, I have been involved with the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, whether through competing, mentoring or judging. My journey started in 2017, when I was accepted into the Helsinki team on my year abroad. After this, I helped pull together a team at Warwick University, and then had the lucky coincidence of moving to the same city where the European Friendly Rounds took place last year, where I judged. Looking back, we were very lucky to have these experiences in person – especially last year given the rounds took place 5th to the 7th of March, only one weekend before our Prague lockdown began. 

This year, it was announced that the 2021 competition would be held entirely online. I decided to volunteer as a judge, having enjoyed the experience at the rounds in 2020. Now that my time as being ‘Madam President’ or a ‘member of the bench’ for the year has passed, how did the online experience compare to the offline version? 

1. Accessibility to the competition 

To facilitate the competition all around the clock, the organising team recreated the competition using provider Yaatley, a platform for hosting online speech and debate competitions. By hosting the moot online, Jessup was able to reach corners of the world which had not competed before. In previous years financial restraints and visa troubles have prevented some teams from attending the world championships in Washington DC. Furthermore, teams who do not have national rounds sometimes lack practice before proceeding to the Global rounds. Through hosting the competition online, all teams were given an equal playing field. 

I was also able to judge a moot before starting work for the day, which would have been hard to juggle with travel included if the competition had been in person. 

2. Automating a moot 

Last year I interviewed Claudia Nyon for a podcast episode of The Wired Wig on her experience of the Willem C. Vis Moot in an online format.

One aspect that struck me was our discussion of the challenges of communicating with your team during a virtual arbitration or mooting competition. It was good to see that the platform used for this year’s Jessup competition did accommodate for these challenges providing a way for team members to communicate over a team chat. 

The pleasantries were also automated – a prerecorded talk track requested “all rise” before the judges ‘entered’ the room.  

3. May it please… the court? …  

Unfortunately, just by making an event online, doesn’t mean everyone has equal access to the internet. Only 59.5% of the global population has access to the internet – this became apparent when 2/3 of the rounds I judged were only attended by one party, with the other party either not present or unable to enter the platform. At the same time, I was judging alongside an academic who himself was having issues staying connected, having to use a VPN to actually access the platform. 

4. It isn’t just about mooting

In addition to gaining an in-depth understanding of international law, resilient public speaking skills and research expertise, Jessup connects you with people around the globe. The online version was no exception for me as a judge. I ‘sat on a bench’ with two judges from Iran and California, all of us across different time zones. However, I did miss the networking aspect of the competition and meeting participants in person after the rounds had passed. 

Overall, hosting the Jessup competition online gave an excellent chance for a wider breadth of participants and judges to take part in what is a very rewarding moot competition. It was a great feat to pull it off and with such few hiccups. Furthermore, I imagine the competition in an online format does have a place for training purposes. However, despite the advantages an online court or pleading can bring in practice, in the future I am looking forward to seeing the competition return to an offline format: providing participants with both an academic challenge and an opportunity to connect with others from around the world.