Olivia Railton (Law, 2017) and Joe Pitaluga (MPhil International Relations, New College) initially faced off against Royal Holloway, University of London, in the Semi Finals on 10 April 2021. After sustaining challenging interventions from the three judges (all practicing barristers), they progressed to the Grand Final where their submissions were tested and judged by experienced practitioners, including Judge Sutherland Williams.
“Mooting is a new-found love of mine, as of this year, that has seriously re-invigorated my interest in, and passion for, my degree,” said Olivia. “I was primarily a debater in first and second year and will be representing Oxford at the European Debate Championships this year. I’m now captain of Oxford's European Human Rights Moot Court Competition team, and we'll be competing in the competition's international rounds (after coming first in our regional round) in May. It's great fun, and a really practical/interesting way to revise for finals beyond just re-watching lectures or summarising notes.”
The annual Southampton Inter-Varsity National Moot consists of two parts: the National Heats, and the Semi and Grand Finals. Out of 32 participating teams, Olivia and Joe achieved the highest score in the National Heats on 28 March 2021 progressing to the Semi and Grand Finals.
“The competition was done virtually, and one of the biggest challenges whilst pleading was judicial engagement. In normal times, we would've been in a court room or an auditorium, potentially with a podium, and likely standing. Things like eye contact, tone, and gesture that can add a significant amount to a presentation or argument are very easily lost or misconstrued when you're seated in front of a camera. In one of our preliminary rounds, my internet cut out and the judge asked Joe (who usually pleads second as junior counsel) to speak first which was definitely not something we had prepared for,” she added.
The case concerned a self-employed plasterer who was wrongfully exposed to asbestos dust and later developed mesothelioma. Crucially, the company that wrongfully exposed him to asbestos had gone bankrupt, and so the man was suing their insurer.
“We had to represent both 'sides' in the two final rounds; representing the insurer in the Semis, and the plasterer in the Grand Finals. With regards to a 'winning strategy' in the finals, I think in cases like this one, there is a tendency to get fixated on technicalities and not pay enough attention to principles. In the past, I've definitely found myself guilty of approaching legal issues too much like a lawyer and not enough like a person, thus falling into the trap of being unreasonably compelled by the apparent satisfaction of a 'rule'. However, when I took a step back and considered the purpose of the relevant rule in this case, the best case for our side became much clearer and I ran a principle-heavy case that ended up paying off.”