Why it pays to be involved

Yesterday, my section of criminal law had its moot event. Andrew explained about how it worked back in January; they gave us a set of facts taken and modified from a real criminal case that went to the Supreme Court, the highest and most authoritative court in Canada, whose decisions set a binding precedent on how all the other courts in Canada apply the law. In this moot the UBC Supreme Moot Court pretended to be a higher authority than the Supreme Court. We had to file and serve factums, which means that we had to make written arguments and send them to the other side and to the judges in front of whom we would be arguing. Then we prepared oral arguments and had about half an hour each last night to make these submissions in front of judges.

Groups of four students argued on the appeal. The two appellants representing the Crown (the state power that lays criminal charges in Canada) argued that the man should be convicted because they were dissatisfied with the Supreme Court decision. the two respondents representing the accused argued that the previous decision was correct and that the appeal should be dismissed. I was one of the respondents, who were all delighted to win our case.

Some people were terrified about the impending moot. But I saw it as it was: a straightforward way of trying out what in upper years is called appellate advocacy without any possibility of losing marks as long as we turned up. One thing I have really felt lacking in is instruction on procedure. We are learning about how to apply the law to fact patterns and how to write about it, but not so much how to argue it in court or how a trial actually works. But after all there wouldn’t be much point in our learning about it without knowing enough about the law.

I was very glad to have this opportunity to argue my case and respond to questions that the three judges asked. I thought of it as something a little more than my thesis defence of last year. I know I did well at some things and that others in my group did other things much better than I did. According to the judges’ evaluation of me, I was fairly good at speaking and answering questions. One mistake that I made was suggesting, or implying, that a judge might have decided a case in a certain way out of prejudice to the heinous conduct of the accused, saying which, I showed disrespect for the judiciary. But I quickly realised I had said the wrong thing without meaning it and quickly backtracked and then moved on when a judge pointed out my intolerable error.

There is one thing that I found especially funny. A bit of background is necessary here. A few weeks ago I was at a committee meeting of the Law Students Society, where we were discussing our constitution. I listened to the details only half-heartedly because I was annoyed with our constitution for a reason that I knew no one was going to bring up. I finally pointed out that the constitution contained several grammatical errors, which I found irritating to no end, and asked whether they would please give me leave to correct them as amendments. They said yes. I went home that night and marked up the twelve pages with little comments such as, “‘hereafter’ needs to be consistent with ‘hereinafter’, used above”, or, “problem with adverb clause”. I didn’t really know what happened to that document after I sent it away, feeling content with the day’s work.

But after the moot, one of the judges, who was on the committee where we had the discussion, said that she had known it was me when she read my factum, because to interpret an offence I went into a good page on its grammatical makeup. I was intrigued. Apparently she had seen the entire document and was rather amused at all my comments. I was just glad she had taken it well.

One thought on “Why it pays to be involved

  1. Vivian

    I, too, am very interested in grammar. Do you, by any chance, find rhetoric interesting as well? It seems quite applicable to the field of law.


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