Law students from Victoria University of Wellington have taken out New Zealand Red Cross’ mock war crimes trial and will go on to represent Aotearoa in an international competition.

New Zealand Red Cross’ 2020 International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot Court Competition was held at the Old High Court on 28 November 2020. Winners Jonathan Sylvester, Taran Molloy and Charlotte Thompson competed against other future lawyers from the University of Otago, Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland.

Sharing the details of the fictional case that they had to argue in front of real legal professionals, Jonathan says: “The context is a non-international armed conflict where there’s a group fighting for their environmental and social interests against a state oppressor. The war crimes that we’re dealing with are related to attacking medical personnel who are actually not acting as medical personnel, and also whether children are being recruited [for the conflict], which is a very contentious and important issue to discuss.”

Taran, who has also won the ‘Best Speaker Award’, recognises that the experience helped him grow as an aspiring lawyer as it was a good opportunity for him to put his research, writing and oral presentation skills to the test. 

“It has been very interesting to research and understand [the issues discussed],” he says.

2020 IHL Moot Court Competition winners Taran Molloy, Charlotte Thompson and Jonathan Sylvester from Victoria University.

This achievement qualifies the three law students to represent New Zealand in the 19th Asia-Pacific Region IHL Moot Court Competition scheduled on 11-14 March 2021.  

The annual Asia-Pacific Region IHL Moot is usually held in Hong Kong, where top law students from around the region compete for the championship title. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, organisers of the event have opted to conduct this upcoming competition online.

About the IHL Moot Court Competition

New Zealand Red Cross’ IHL Moot Court Competition is an annual event open to teams from all law schools here in Aotearoa. Participants of this competition are carefully selected at the discretion of the law school or academic faculty.

“The IHL Moot Court Competition is actually a fictional war crimes trial aimed at getting law school students to explore their interest in international humanitarian law and to have a practice in front of real legal professionals,” says Rebecca Dudley, New Zealand Red Cross’ IHL Advisor.

Aside from developing their skills, this competition aspires to deepen participating future lawyers’ understanding of the importance and relevance of IHL or the rules of armed conflict. 

Competition judges Kevin Riordan, Sir Kenneth Keith and Judge Bill Hastings hear the arguments presented by the participants.

One of the competition judges, Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Rowe from New Zealand Defence Force, says: “IHL is important, especially in an increasingly uncertain and unstable world to ensure that, when conflict unfortunately does break out, the conduct of the participants are regulated and the unnecessary suffering is alleviated as much as possible.”

For more information about New Zealand Red Cross’ 2020 IHL Moot Court Competition, please click here.