Sunday, November 11, 2018

A New Champion Rises And Chapter Begins (A LAWASIA Story)

On 4th November 2018, University of Malaya (UM) made history.

We were crowned as Champion of the 13th LAWASIA International Moot Competiton.

And we tasted victory in our very first comeback to the competition since 2005.

There will be wild and jubilant celebrations back in the faculty for many weeks. The mooters deserve a hero's welcome (or rather, a heroine's welcome - they're all lovely ladies).

But first, time for credits and confessions.

First try, first win

* * *

The National Rounds was fiercely fought between 30 teams from 11 institutions. We won all 7 rounds and all 21 judges unanimously. It was a perfect, flawless championship run.

Another team from UM also finished as Runners-Up. Alas, they could not advance to the Internationals due to the eligibility rules limiting one team per institution.

(Check out the previous report: "We Are The Champions And Runners-Up (A LAWASIA Story)")

In the International Rounds, 14 teams from 10 countries vied for glory, including the mooting heavyweights of National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU).

After 4 days, 9 rounds and 29 judges, we emerged triumphant, vanquishing NUS in the Final.

Along the way, we met many formidable opponents. This time, we weren't perfect. In total, we lost 1 round, and 3 judges. The International teams were tougher and stronger. And though their heroes may have fallen, they deserve every bit of our respect.

Preliminary Round

Hidayatullah National Law University (India) - We were rather jittery at the start. Not just because this was our first match, but due to their mooting reputation. We prepared hard, going through every word in their memorial. They came out with guns blazing at the oral hearing, but we responded well and deflected their every attack. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

Kobe University (Japan) - Their memorial was thick with substance. Their oral submissions, though not polished, still packed a punch. Where they suffered most was their English fluency, to which the international panel of judges must've struggled to keep up with. Most fittingly, they eventually clinched the 'Best Endeavour Award'. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

Jodhpur University (India) -Another dangerous threat. Red alert mode. To our great relief, we prevailed. Next round, they battled SMU - and won! To our pleasant surprise, they invoked an unconventional argument which we had just raised against them (and which other teams rarely attempted, if at all). That alone didn't win them the match, of course. But it displayed the traits of a winner - the agility to evolve. Result: UM Win (3-0)😊

University of Kent (UK) - This was a walkover. But there's a tragic and touching tale behind it. The team lost two members at the last-minute, so only one guy turned up. This triggered an auto-loss. But instead of insisting upon an ex-parte match, we allowed him to speak as a makeshift 'pair'. A true display of valor. A worthy winner of the 'Spirit of LAWASIA award'. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

We finished as the top team of the Preliminary Rounds! 😄


Shanghai University of Political Science and Law (China) - Their style lacked smoothness, but their substance was solid. Another thrust-and-parry battle. Their Respondent put up a valiant defence, but could not withstand our Claimant's onslaught. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

Taylor's University (Malaysia) - It's never nice crossing swords with fellow countrymen. They finished 4th in the Nationals, closely behind us. As feared, they pushed us to our limits, putting our qualification at risk once more. But our nerves held, and chalk yet another clinical win. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

We finished as the top team of the Quarter-Finals!😄

Jodhpur: A worthy adversary deserving of a higher finish

* * *

We had taken the lead in the last two rounds, and were inching closer to the finish line. The pressure was building. We were feeling the heat. By now, surely we were the main target in our opponents' crosshairs.

We were the noobs, the outsiders, the gate-crashers. By now, surely many people hated our guts.


SMU (Singapore) - The reigning LAWASIA International Champion for the last 4 years, the tournament favourites. But momentum was on our side, and we were determined to extend our unbeaten run. And an epic clash of two titans. In the end, their suave sophistication edged out our raw passion. Finally, we were brought crashing down to earth by a heart-breaking, razor-thin split decision. Result: UM Loss (2-1) 😢

University Technology MARA (Malaysia) - We both lost our first Semi-Final match, hence teetered on the brink of elimination. A do-or-die battle between two eternal rivals. They were Runners-Up last year, 3rd in the Nationals this year, and long-time LAWASIA stalwart. We were the upstarts threatening to upset the balance of power. We went all out... won... and sealed our spot in the Final! Result: UM Win (2-1) 😅


NUS (Singapore) - The final boss. They were unbeaten so far, and bested their own eternal rival SMU. As Claimant, we drew first blood. As Respondent, they countered back. Our grip on the proceedings was slipping away, until Suan Cui's thunderous rebuttal that had everyone in raptures. And when the dust finally settled, the 5-member panel of arbitrators unanimously awarded the moot to Team UM! Result: UM Win (5-0) 😂

Honourable Mention

We didn't meet and watch all 13 teams in action, so we may have missed some stand-out performances. There was one team which we didn't even encounter that we owe special thanks to...

Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (Vietnam) - A day before we left for Cambodia, Suan Cui suddenly chimed out: "Hey, there's this UK case BDMS v Rafael..." We stared at her blankly. None of us had heard of it. We all took a closer look. I jumped out of my chair, "Dafuq? How did we miss this? Any team cited in their memorial?" Someone replied sheepishly, "Um, I think DAV did." And so it became our secret weapon. A weapon which we patiently held back, and only unleashed in the Final... Thank you, DAV! 😉

DAV: Great minds think alike, pretty faces smile alike

* * *

Our immense gratitude to the LAWASIA organising committee. Everything ran like clockwork, with minimal fuss and delay. Inquiries were handled expeditiously. And when tension ran high, they maintained a high level of professionalism throughout.

As first-time participants, naturally we were bumbling our way through the competition. We had many burning questions on our minds, so we were constantly emailing the organisers. Our payment of the registration fees was mired in bureaucracy, so they prompted us with numerous 'gentle reminders' - we were so worried of being disqualified! If there was an award for the Biggest Troublemaker Team, we would definitely bag it.

And kudos to the Cambodian volunteers! Never have I came across a more passionate, committed bunch of bailiffs and time-keepers. They treated their jobs with meticulous care, such as making sure they pronounce each introductory word and arbitrator's name correctly, in spite of their linguistic limitations. They were also keenly interested in the moot itself. When our counsel referred the arbitrators to the moot problem, I saw one bailiff kept picking up the booklet to follow along!

As a moot competition, LAWASIA is quite unique in its own right. Their rules are quite different from other typical moot competitions:
  • No Anonymity (the identities of institutions are disclosed to the arbitrators)
  • National Rounds for Malaysian teams (other International teams participate directly)
  • Memorials published on the website before the competition
  • Bench memorandum released to teams before the competition (but not this year)
  • Best Oralist Award determined based on raw score of ALL rounds (instead of average score for only Preliminary Rounds)
  • All rounds open to public (there's no prohibition against 'scouting')

* * *

The last point turned out to be quite sensitive and controversial.

At the Nationals, many outsiders dropped in to watch our rounds. And the UM-UM final was held in AIAC's auditorium, open to all, especially the other Malaysian teams joining us in the Internationals. I'm sure notes were being taken. If not, too bad, opportunity missed then!

At the Internationals, we also witnessed teams spectating each other. And that's when complaints trickled in. Apparently, our team was overdoing it. And after we were gently cautioned by the organisers to cut down on the note-taking, we stopped spectating completely. It wasn't as if we badly wanted to spy on others, nor was it part of some cunning diabolical plan. We genuinely didn't mean to cross the line. 😥

So why did we spectate in the first place? Remember, it's our first foray in LAWASIA (and all other teams were regulars). We were venturing into uncharted waters. We thought spectating was the norm, hence just going with the flow.

But above all, we were genuinely curious to watch as many teams as possible. It's a learning experience. Different cultures have different styles. We saw this openness in LAWASIA as a virtue, not a flaw.

Were we 'scouting'? Yes, but there's no rule against it.

Is it unfair? No, because all teams can do it too. Also, every team's memorial is publicly available, so there's no real secret in our arguments, anyway.

Were we worried of other teams scouting us and stealing our submission? No, because we know very well how to counter our own submission, and besides, we have plenty of other arguments in our arsenal to deploy (e.g. our secret weapon hidden in DAV's memorial).

In fact, if other teams scouted our rounds, we would have been flattered, not annoyed. For it meant that our arguments were awesome, and our team was deemed a 'threat'. And even if they adopted our submissions, we would've cheered them on (e.g. Jodhpur vs SMU). No hard feelings, but shared joy. 😃

Cambodia: Volunteers today, champions tomorrow!

* * *

At times, we felt really awkward. Like a newly adopted child in a close-knit family. Like an elephant walking through a room of china.

At times, we felt like we didn't fit in. People looked at us in a funny way.

At times, we felt like just giving up.

But we stayed the course. We didn't let ourselves be distracted by drama. We came to Cambodia with a mission to win - and to prove that anyone can win against all odds if they put their hearts and minds to it.

And now that we've won, we hope that our Cinderella run will inspire not only our juniors, but law students everywhere.

That you don't need to be a native English speaker to win in moots.

That you don't need to slowly step on every rung of the ladder to reach to the top.

That you don't need to tick all the boxes to be a champion.

Champions come and go. Heroes rise and fall. Perhaps next year, a better model champion will come along. And when they do lift the trophy, we will smile and cheer for them... and acknowledge that maybe our flaws had inspired goodness in others to rise and live up to the true spirit of LAWASIA.

But for now, Team UM is the reigning 13th LAWASIA International champion.

* * *

Instead of the usual suspects, a new champion has arisen.

Instead of the same old story, a new chapter has begun.

Yes, we may not be the champion that LAWASIA deserves.

But maybe... just maybe... we were the champion that LAWASIA needs.

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