Thursday, April 11, 2019

Hooray Hungary (Jessup 2019)

And the champion of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is...

Eötvös Loránd University

Congratulations, Team Hungary!

For winning your very first Jessup, defeating perennial favourites Columbia University (Team USA), and inspiring underdogs worldwide with your miracle run...

143 teams, 1 champion

* * *

The world of mooting can roughly divided into two groups.

Native English speakers (NES) - those who grew up speaking and learning in English since childhood.

'English as secondary language' speakers (ESL) - those who grew up speaking and learning in their mother tongue, and only picked up English as a second or even third language.

Since law is inextricably linked to language, mastery over 'legal language' is essential to lawyering. For instance, Jessup mooters should be expected to understand the difference between 'jurisdiction' and 'territory'. Those who can't should rightfully be scorned, no matter which country they come from.

But where ESL mooters fall short is grasping the full spectrum of conversational English. And often times, that's where we lose out to our NES counterparts - not because of law, but language.

For as much as we binge on Netflix, we're not fully attuned to the typical American breakneck speed of speech, nor fully familiar with their colloquial expressions and loaded sentences. Our occasional difficulty to engage with judges has nothing to do with our lack of legal understanding, but linguistic limitations.

And yet, time and time again, I see judges getting visibly annoyed when mooters struggle to comprehend and cope with their questions - often times, in garbled and cryptic terms that only a true-blood NES expert can discern.

* * *

The facts and figures don't lie.

A quick look at history indicate that the Jessup is dominated by teams from NES countries - United States, Australia, Singapore and Canada.

Of course, there are some plausible reasons for their success, totally unrelated to linguistics. NES countries tend to be common law countries as well, hence more adept at courtroom advocacy. NES countries are also more developed, hence their educational infrastructure is more advanced.

That said, their early exposure to English definitely gives them a head start as well. Not just in learning the law (legal materials for international law are predominantly in English), but also in social skills.

And having being around in international moots long enough - and not just in Jessup - you can trust me when I say this: the gap between NES and ESL teams in terms of substance has narrowed in recent years, perhaps to the point of non-existence.

Also, ESL teams do not lack in passion and preparation.

Why then is the gap of results still so large?

If you apply Sherlock Holmes' logic in eliminating impossible causes with the empirical and anecdotal evidence at hand, the conclusion is that language - rightly or wrongly - still plays a primary factor in the determination of winners in Jessup or any international moot.

ESL Rocks!

* * *

Don't get me wrong. This is not a rant. It's merely an observation.

ESL mooters are disadvantaged by their cultural upbringing. When we face up against a NES teams in a moot, we're already a few points down before opening our mouths.

In fact, to stay on par with the NES teams, we have to put in more extra effort and hours to overcome our linguistic deficiencies. Simply put, both sides of the divide do not start on an equal playing field. With all other things like substance being equal, ESL mooters have to work harder to earn their win.

Some may think it's a problem that needs fixing, some may not. Some may even deny there's even a problem to begin with, as language is part of mooting as much as shooting hoops is part of basketball (pardon my insipid attempt at American colloquialism).

This is not a call for affirmative action. If there's anything that needs changing, it's our own human nature, not the rules of the game.

* * *

And yet, against all odds, Team Hungary defeated Team USA in the Finals.

True enough, in the Finals, the Hungarian agents struggled to understand some of the American judges' fiery questioning. Despite their superiority in legal argumentation, their delivery lacked the smoothness displayed by the US agents. It was the classic clash between substance versus style.

By a narrow 2-1 vote by the bench, substance ultimately prevailed. Justice was indeed served.

This year, Hungary has joined the illustrious ranks of ESL teams to win the Jessup. It's a rare and handful bunch. Together with Team Colombia, Team Russia and Team Argentina, they have shown the rest of the world that language is no barrier to success in mooting.

Hip hip hooray!
* * *

Ultimately, as much as we are a 'disadvantaged' lot, ESL mooters should accept the cold hard truth that life simply isn't fair, and that we should take responsibility for the life choices that we make.

But perhaps - just perhaps - we could be given some margin of error for not speaking Americano as smoothly as natural-born speakers.

After all, Jessup is the Olympics of mooting. Jessup unites the cultures and nations of the world under one umbrella.

And that spirit of unity should be the love of the law, and not language.

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