Adelaide Law School students participate in the Sir Harry Gibbs Constitutional Law Moot
In October, Adelaide Law School Moot Court students Amelia Atkinson, Jana Humzy and Bianca Tramaglino participated in the Sir Harry Gibbs Constitutional Law Moot at the University of Melbourne. Amelia, Jana and Bianca have shared these reflections on their experience:
May it please the court,
Humzy, Atkinson and Tramaglino appearing on behalf of the moot court subject. In response to the overarching legal question of whether you should do this subject next year we submit: a unanimous yes.
Our first meeting began with a tentative question: ‘I can't believe we got picked, do you think anyone else actually applied?’. The answer to this question remains unknown. What it reflects, however, is it never hurts to apply, and you have more to offer than you think. There was a brief grace period at the beginning, in the time between our first meeting and the release of the question. After the release, looking at those 8 pages, it was fair to say this question would occupy our waking minutes for the next three months.
As our submissions began to form, we were fortunate enough to have them scrutinised by an array of prominent legal professionals posing as guest judges: Cornelia Koch, Chad Jacobi and Sean O’Flaherty. Former District Court Judge Geoff Muecke politely sat through one of our first practice oral submissions. This resulted in somewhat of an ego boost after he asked our permission to keep our submissions in his personal library.
At times, in conversation, the vernacular unique to the moot problem would be our Freudian slip: anytime the term ‘alien’, ‘submit’ or ‘immunity’ worked its way into conversation an inadvertent twitch crept up our spines. There are few subjects at law school which you have the liberty of so deeply exploring as those presented to you in the context of this moot. Whilst stressful, the all consuming passion, and time spent answering, dissecting and exploring this question validated our legal skills more than any other experience law school has brought forth.
Acting in the capacity of the defence, for the Commonwealth, we assumed a somewhat draconian persona in submitting the aliens power can reach so far as to make laws to revoke the citizenship of Australian born citizens, from Australian born parents. Even spanning to encompass an innocent child 3 years of age. The success of this argument largely depended on the moral compass of the moot judge.
As the plaintiff we formed a much more appealing argument. However, it was hard to argue against the extreme breadth of the aliens power. If there is one thing we all took away from constitutional law it was: the aliens power is brutal, and only lightly restrained in its operation. We also hope there will come an opportunity where the ability to recite every word of the judgement in Singh v Cth will be useful.
The second question, whilst less conceptually dense, was a difficult topic to make a cohesive argument either for or against. Mention the term ‘intergovernmental immunities’ to a student who has completed constitutional law and you can still be met with a ‘what’s that?’ This area of law looks at whether the states and the Commonwealth can control one another. This area remains, in our opinion, underdeveloped and largely unclear. Answering this question involved paying close attention to 80 years of controversy around whether intergovernmental immunity was a legitimate constitutional concept, and whether it could be used to prohibit the compulsion of discovery. The trick of the question was to focus on the broader consequences of releasing the materials in question, not the issue of whether compulsion in general was necessary. This was a difficult trap to avoid, and some teams in the competition did not successfully avoid it. Avoiding this trap mandated an ironclad understanding of the operation of the intergovernmental immunities test and the thresholds the court has developed to clarify how far each of the arms of government can really control one another.
Due to the reserved judgments of our moot judges, we did not get an answer to the two legal questions we were faced with. This in itself, only drives home the realisation you have to have steadfast faith in the arguments you present - it’s the only way we get a sense of closure and put this tantalizing question to the back of our minds.
What would we have done differently you ask? Don’t start researching 5 seconds after the problem is released. Take a while to absorb the facts, the legislation, and respond to the question. This moot was a testament to the fact that statutory interpretation is anything other than a ‘simple’ practice. Another thing we would change: don’t leave one question - even if it's the smaller question - to one person, because that person is condemned to yell arguments at themselves for a whole semester.
The closing ceremony for any moot became a post it note reading ‘Aperol Spritz?’ and a subsequent trip to a classy establishment to satiate our needs. The team building element of the moot is much of the joy of the subject. If you are passionate about law, Moot court puts you in the orbit of others with that same passion; this is a true gift. Having team members who cared about cases, and felt the same thrill when another part of the big picture fell into place was rewarding socially and academically.
Moot court has so much more to offer than any of us anticipated, and we know the next team to take on this course will have an experience of the calibre of ours.