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UC law students win moot competition

Vanessa Lam

29 June 2018: A team of University of Canberra law students has won this year’s DPP Plate after putting their skills to the test in a mock courtroom.

Perri Hollis, Tayla Ayers and Bwalya Chifuntwe won the title and case against a team from the Australian National University (ANU) at the event which was held in the ACT Magistrates Court as part of National Law Week.

The DPP Plate is an annual moot competition between law students from the University of Canberra and ANU, run by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. On the day of the mock trial, a coin was flipped, and students took the role of either the defence or prosecution in a criminal law trial where they presented their case before a judge. This year the teams presented before Supreme Court Judge Justice Mossop.

Ms Ayers, who is studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Commerce said the students had talked about participating in a moot competition since their first year of study.

“When we were offered the chance to take part in a criminal mock trial we jumped at the opportunity,” she said.

Mr Chifuntwe agreed, saying it was fantastic to add practical experience to their degree.

Two days before the competition, teams were given the facts of the case, including witness statements, medical reports and police reports. They had to prepare arguments for both the defence and the prosecution. The students represented the defendant in the matter and made opening and closing statements, examined and cross-examined witnesses.

“It was a lot of pressure because you had to prepare an argument for each side and an overall argument for the defence and prosecution case and before finding out an hour before which role you took,” Ms Hollis said.

The case they argued was a disagreement over cricket between two men that led to an assault outside Mooseheads in Canberra, which resulted in facial injuries to the victim. The students won the case and got their client acquitted.

Ms Hollis said being able to work together as a team and go into the courtroom with different roles was exciting.

“We really played to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Bwalya is an excellent speaker and Tayla is brilliant at reading through information and asking questions, so we were able to build a decent case and give each other roles that played to our strengths,” the 22-year-old said.

This was the first time the students had ever competed in a mock trial competition and said they enjoyed the chance to practice advocacy in the courtroom.

Ms Ayers described the competition as “a 24-hour crash course of general advocacy”.

“We needed to learn when we could make objections or how to tend to evidence in court which allowed us to showcase what we can do and what UC has to offer.”

The students credited their success to their lecturers and practical experiences they’ve had during their degree.

“What I benefit the most from is someone that can tell you where you’re going wrong and advise you differently and push you in the right direction.  UC does that exceptionally well and we’ve had some fantastic people who have overseen our studies,” Ms Hollis said.