Each year, law students from around Europe compete in the European Human Rights Moot Court Competition. This exciting event is a simulated hearing of the European Court of Human Rights, giving law students a chance to develop their legal skills and knowledge on the topic.
This year looked a little different than previous editions, where 80 teams from across the continent gathered online to compete. Students from IE University won it all, securing a traineeship at the Court. The team included third and fourth-year law students Anna Lotta Hattig (Dual Degree in Law and International Relations), Raquel Hazeu González (Dual Degree in Law and International Relations), Sole Artom (Bachelor in Politics, Law and Economics), and Isabella Mitrotti Gomes Casseres (Bachelor of Law).
The winners share their experience of this year’s unique virtual format, what they took away from the competition, and their advice to future participants.
Why did you join the competition?
Anna: I wanted to take the opportunity to apply the knowledge I’ve acquired in my studies to a real-life scenario. The European Human Rights Moot Court Competition, with its competitive aspect, international component and focus on human rights—a field I am deeply interested in—offered the perfect setting for this.
Raquel: I’m interested in pursuing a career in human rights, so this moot court gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to work as a lawyer in the ECHR and learn from experts who are already working in the field. It allowed me to understand how the Court works, its legal reasoning, as well as how to search for case law and understand the intricacies of the convention. Putting yourself in the shoes of both the applicant and the state makes you realize that there are arguments for both sides and that there is always room for interpretation.
Sole: Moot competitions are an opportunity to discover real-life scenarios as an actual lawyer. Now that I’m approaching my final year at IE University, this experience allowed me to gain a broader perspective on what I want to do in the future and helped me overcome my fear of public speaking. Ultimately though, the main reason I chose to participate is because human rights is a topic that’s close to my heart.
Isabella: Participating in such a prestigious moot court competition is a chance to take the most practical approach to law and advocacy in particular. So I was extremely eager to gain practical knowledge. Human rights is also an area of law that I’m very interested in. Being able to learn from two experienced human rights lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights was a unique opportunity I wanted to be a part of.
What was the competition like? Can you highlight some key moments from the online experience?
At first, the online format was challenging because we felt disconnected from our team and the judges. Being in a courtroom is obviously more thrilling than sitting at your desk at home—but on the other hand, this helped calm our nerves when we were pleading.
The online experience was nice in that we could communicate more easily as a team and support each other more closely. Another advantage was that we could structure our research better online than if we had it on paper. What’s more, we got to meet prominent human rights figures who might not have been able to join had it been in person. The conversations with other teams between pleadings, the feedback from the judges, and the bond that we formed with our team and coaches made it feel more like an in-person competition.
What are the main takeaways from the preparation process and the competition itself?
The main takeaway from the competition was undoubtedly a deep understanding of the European Convention on Human Rights and the subsequent case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. We were able to deepen our knowledge in the areas of privacy rights, the right to peacefully assemble, the right to a fair trial and the general workings of the court.
The competition also taught us transversal skills that are necessary in the legal field: in-depth legal research methodologies, teamwork and writing skills were just some of the aspects we practiced and improved upon while preparing our written statements. The oral pleading rounds gave us the opportunity to enhance our speaking skills, flexibility and confidence in a courtroom setting.
What do you think were the keys to winning this year’s event?
The first is practice. Consistency is key to understanding the intricacies of the case scenario as well as any possible improvements to your argument. Practicing week after week—both with our coaches and individually—helped us prepare for the competition so we were ready to be put on the spot and answer difficult questions.
Another key was a deep understanding of the court’s case law, which gave us the tools to respond to any questions from the judges or arguments from other teams. This requires not only being familiar with the established main principles in a certain case, but also the facts and outcome of the case, and how they are similar or different to your case scenario.
The third major factor was teamwork. There are many areas of research for the moot competition, so it’s useful to have each team member focus on a certain aspect in the beginning, and then share their knowledge with the rest of the team. For the regional rounds, half of the team represented the applicant and half represented the respondent, so we would give each other feedback and suggestions on possible case law that could be useful. One of the benefits of the event being online is that we could support each other directly by taking notes on the other team’s arguments and writing possible rebuttals in a shared document.
What are some important characteristics when managing a successful team?
We learned that respectful and direct communication is essential, especially when the stakes are so high. The further we advanced in the competition, the more stressful and work-intensive the process became. The trust we had developed in one another helped: we could rely on our teammates and know that we had each other’s backs. We worked together towards a common goal, which involved sharing each newly acquired piece of information, keeping each other updated on our work progress and constantly challenging each other to go deeper into the topic.
Most importantly, we supported each other if one of us was struggling with something personal, especially in such a difficult time. Getting to know your teammates and understanding their emotions is just as important as knowing your pleadings.
Do you have any advice for students who are interested in participating?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. At first, it can be intimidating when the judges put you on the spot and ask questions, but you should take these questions as an opportunity to persuade them and improve your legal reasoning. Getting feedback from professionals who are already working in the field is one of the most valuable things you can take from this experience.