MLS wins second place at Sir Harry Gibbs Constitutional Law Moot

It started with three knocks.

“All rise. The High Court of Australia is in session.”

MLS Gibbs Moot team

Angus Willoughby, Alexandra Harrison-Ichlov and Alexander Di Stefano

Few lawyers are fortunate enough to hear those words, but a team of MLS students had the chance yesterday to appear before three former members of the High Court of Australia.

For the second year running, an MLS team made it through to the grand final of the Sir Harry Gibbs Constitutional Law Moot. Third-year JD students Angus Willoughby, Alexandra Harrison-Ichlov and Alexander Di Stefano placed second in the competition. Harrison-Ichlov was also named best speaker, after impressing the judges with an articulate, calm and measured performance.

First prize went to the team from the Australian National University.

The grand final was judged by the Hon William Gummow, the Hon Ian Callinan and the Hon Susan Crennan, former Justices of the High Court. The Hon Justice Stephen Gageler of the High Court wrote the moot problem.

The problem involved the validity of two hypothetical Commonwealth laws, both of which provided for the offshore detention of specific individuals.

The judges highlighted the difficulty of the problem and praised the arguments on both sides, with Justice Gummow noting the “difficulty in compressing into 20 minutes such complex legal issues and arguments”.

On being awarded best speaker, Harrison-Ichlov said “it’s a great honour, and a testament to all of our hard work and especially the work of our coach”.

The MLS team was coached by barrister and MLS-alumnus Christopher Tran, who has already been briefed in several matters appearing before the High Court in his short career.

“It was great to see my own advocacy style developing over the course of working with Chris,” Harrison-Ichlov said.

Judges at the Gibbs Moot Alexandra Harrison-Ichlov, Justice Callinan, Justice Crennan, Justice Gummow, Angus Willoughby, Alexander Di Stefano

While some fortunate mooters receive only a few questions from the bench, both teams were confronted with a barrage of inquisition, particularly from Justice Gummow. This was especially true of MLS’ first speaker, Willoughby, who weathered several minutes of questioning admirably – even going so far as to tempt Justice Gummow to overturn one of his previous rulings in a response.

“The toughest part is having a lot of questions directed at you by people who know a lot more about the law than you”, Willoughby said.

To deal with such pressure, he found it best to “think about the purpose of the judge’s question and respond to that thoroughly but briefly”.

The teams covered a wealth of law in what became something of an overview of Australian constitutional law history. They referenced modern migration cases, the stolen generation, the ill-fated Australian Communist Party and initial skirmishes over the federal balance in a young Australia.

The Sir Harry Gibbs Constitutional Law Moot is now in its second year, and is run by the MLS Students’ Society in collaboration with the Australian Association of Constitutional Law and the Australian Government Solicitor. Teams from universities all around Australia meet in the moot court over a four-moot round robin before three knockout finals determine the ultimate winners.

All three members of the MLS team are now headed to the University of Cambridge, each to complete a Master of Law. The team hopes to find more opportunities to moot together after settling into the UK.

This is likely not the last time the trio will rise at the sound of three knocks.

By Scott Colvin

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