In conversation with winners of the 12th Leiden-Sarin International Air Law Moot Court Competition, 2021

The RMLNLU Team comprising of 4th year students – Anushka, Ayesha Zaidi and Shashwat Awasthi emerged as winners of the World Rounds of the 12th Leiden-Sarin International Air Law Moot Court Competition. The team was also awarded the title of “Best Oral Pleadings – Respondent”. 

They have been interviewed by EBC-SCC Online Student Ambassador Vanaj Vidyan, who is currently pursuing law at RMLNLU.

Congratulations on winning the World Rounds of Leiden 2021, and thanks for agreeing to this interview.

 

  1. Before we get to the formal questions, let us begin by hearing how it felt to be winners? Were you guys expecting it?

 

Anushka: Leiden was a long-time commitment for all of us and to hear our names as the “winners” of the competition was the most satisfying feeling ever. We were absolutely elated. The finals were extremely competitive, yet we believed that we had put in our best efforts and had a good shot.

 

Ayesha: The qualification rounds for this moot were multifold and very rigorous. We hoped to reach the world rounds, and that in itself, was a dream come true. But even after that, out of 16 teams across the world, we had to be in the top 2 to compete in the finals. And needless to say, we did consider we had a good chance given the kind of preparation we had, but it still came as a good surprise to find out. Winning anything obviously feels great, so cannot say that feeling is anything less of perfect.

 

Shashwat: Considering the level of competition involved as well as the complexity of the arguments, I do not think any team could have expected to win this competition. That is why the feeling of winning was surreal. The hard work of more than 7 months had finally paid off.

 

  1. Please introduce yourself to our readers. Why did you take up law as a career, and what draws you towards mooting?

 

Anushka: I am a 4th year law student at RMLNLU, Lucknow. My interest in law sparked early in my school days, as I started to interact with my cousin who had just started her practice as a lawyer. The more I got to know about the career, the more I fell in love with it. Whilst in school, my interests in academics, reading, critical and logical reasoning made law an attractive career opportunity for me.

 

Mooting for me, has been a quintessential activity to gain knowledge about a subject-matter of interest, which perhaps is not included in the course curriculum. It does not only develop legal research and drafting skills, but also hones one’s skills with respect to time management and teamwork.

 

Ayesha: I am in my 4th year of law school, and I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was in the 6th grade. It has always felt exhilarating to work for the people, or be the voice of the people who are often deemed voiceless. My primary interest is in criminal law, but due to my interest in public speaking, I have been indulged in activities like mooting which enable me to explore other mediums and areas of law, such as international and commercial laws.

 

Shashwat: I am a 4th year student at RMLNLU, Lucknow. I used to participate in a lot of debating competitions and Model United Nations (MUN) conferences in my school life. Through these activities, I realised that I had developed certain skills which are best suited for the legal profession. Post this realisation, I was fortunate enough to receive some guidance from my school seniors who were pursuing law and also some practicing lawyers, who further affirmed this belief.

 

As far as mooting is concerned, I believe that it is the only activity which comes close to what life is like for lawyer, while preparing a case. I completely understand and concur that it might not be a correct depiction of the court proceedings in many ways, however that should not affect the value and validity of the activity itself. Mooting involves all the skills that one must focus upon as a lawyer; research, preparation of arguments, drafting written submissions and then the oral arguments.

  1. Leiden is organised on air law, which would be considered as a very niche subject of law in general parlance. What was your motivation behind choosing Leiden particularly?

 

Anushka: It was a no brainer for us to take up a moot which involves public international law. We read quite a few moot problems that were released in that period of time, and Leiden’s case matrix interested us the most. Leiden’s moot proposition offered us the most challenging, hotly debated and yet, very practical aspect of air law. In the meanwhile, we were so intrigued by the nuances of air law that all three of us took up courses to learn more about the subject-matter.

 

Ayesha: Leiden has always been considered one of the primary moots for public international law, which I personally find very interesting. Secondly, considering air law is a niche area, it allows you to gather information from a concise list of materials and resources. Hence, it was a great combination of both a general law, such as PIL and a narrower area, such as aviation law.

 

Shashwat: There were three major reasons as to why we picked Leiden; first, as Anushka has rightly mentioned, we wanted to explore the nuances of public international law and at the same time, also make sure that we pick something which has relevance in the current scenario. Leiden’s proposition this year was a combination of real-life incidents and some fictional elements, which interested us a lot. Secondly, the timeline of the moot suited us perfectly, meaning thereby that we would not have to worry about our academic commitments. Lastly, the reputation of the moot alongside the brilliant organisations that are associated with it, attracted us a lot.

 

  1. What was the moot problem based on? How did you approach the problem, and did your strategies evolve with more preparation?

The 2021 moot problem was inspired by real-life incidents such as the German wings incident and the Ethiopian Airlines incident, where the pilot itself hijacks a domestic aircraft and eventually leads it into a different State, in order to obtain political asylum. There were broadly two major issues of contention: the binding nature and applicability of certain provisions of the Chicago Convention; and secondly, the overall responsibility of States for the incident.

 

Considering air law was a completely new area for all of us, it required a deeper understanding and discussion on the law, unlike all other moots. We started with a general reading about the basics of air law and the Chicago Convention (which was the applicable convention to the problem) and had daily discussions based on the predecided reading tasks for the day. After having a fair idea of the problem, subject-matter and the issues involved, we divided the issues as per our preferences and interests. Although we had our internships going on simultaneously, we made sure to sit together online every day, for at least 4-5 hours without fail. This made sure that all of us were following the strict timelines that we made and stayed coordinated at every step of this moot. Eventually, we were so well read about each other’s issues that any one person could help the other in case of any deadlock.

 

  1. How was the competition at the moot this year? Do you feel that teams from other jurisdictions approach a moot differently, in terms of their strategies and arguments?

 

Considering how accessible moots have become due to their online medium, the number of participating teams naturally increased. More than 50 teams from around the world had registered for the competition. As far as national rounds are concerned, more than 20 teams had submitted their memorials alongside a pre-recorded video in order to qualify for the national rounds, out of which only 4 were selected. Further, only top 3 teams from India qualified for the world rounds.

 

We faced three foreign teams in the world rounds and there was a noticeable difference in how they approached the moot versus how we did. We believe that qualifying through the national rounds helped us in our preparation and we were able to add a lot of nuance to our arguments. The international teams focussed a lot on their speaking styles and overall presentation, whereas the Indian teams were very dedicated to making their arguments watertight.

 

  1. Your team previously won the national rounds of Leiden. Did your preparation for the world rounds change after winning the nationals? How was researching for the two rounds different?

 

We were aware that our memorials would play a huge role in the selection process and thus all our efforts, initially, were focussed onto drafting a quality memorial. After winning the national rounds, we sought guidance from a number of people who had been to the World Rounds of Leiden, and they unanimously advised us to start afresh for the world rounds. Since our research was watertight, we did not find any new arguments for the international rounds. Therefore, our priority shifted to the presentation of our arguments including but not limited to polishing our speaking style and working on time management. We gave several mocks and tried to include all the feedbacks and suggestions into our presentation.

 

  1. Arguing in a moot virtually is of course different than a physical set-up. However, multiple challenges also arise in the preparation. Could you elaborate on how the pandemic affected your preparations and the results?

 

Anushka: Virtual moots are a whole different experience. Leiden had narrowed down its selection process this year, raising the difficulty bar a notch higher. We were fortunate enough to have access to the college premises during the memorial submission round and the initial selection procedure. However, after we had qualified for the world rounds, we knew that we needed to coordinate between ourselves virtually, since the three of us resided in different cities. We had semester exams in between (during our preparation) and all three of us were interning simultaneously. Due to our dedication for the moot and the compatibility between us, we made sure that we sat online together every night and dedicate a larger part of our daily lives to this moot.

 

Ayesha: It was hard to prepare virtually, given all of us lived in different cities. We often spent days and nights together on a conference call, figuring out the nuances of each argument. Coupled with that, I got infected with Covid-19, and that took away some crucial preparation time.  Considering both my teammates were extremely supportive, I did not feel guilty about taking rest, recovering quickly, and getting back on track.

 

Shashwat: Virtual rounds also presented a huge challenge in terms of presentation because it becomes very difficult to establish that connection with the Judges and understand their concerns. This was particularly difficult because we did not have the experience of arguing virtually before this moot. We had to practise a lot, in front of our screens, to get better at it.

 

  1. How important do you think legal research is for a law student? How can students better equip themselves with research skills?

 

Legal research is an indispensable skill for a lawyer. Therefore, it is very important to identify the correct sources and databases for online research. Usually, it is a hit-and-trial method for the ones who start early in law schools, by understanding how to narrow down their research with the help of keywords. Every database operates differently and to familiarise oneself with these platforms: online videos, online/offline workshops, approaching a senior for guidance can help. The key to get well equipped with strong research skills is to regularly engage with nuanced research topics and use different legal databases. This can be done in the form of internships, preparing for exams, moots, writing research papers, etc.

 

  1. What are your future plans, in terms of the direction of your career?

Anushka: Looking at the present state of the pandemic, I do not have any short-term plans but in the long run, I plan to do an LLM from a good university abroad and finally build a career in commercial law and dispute resolution.

 

Ayesha: While mooting in international law is quite interesting, I plan on becoming a litigator, focussing on criminal law in particular. The idea of studying the criminal justice system, and somehow working towards improving it in the coming future has always been the main inspiration for me to join this profession.

 

Shashwat: Given the present situation, I believe that the most important thing to do right now is to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. In the long term, I plan to build a career in commercial litigation and international dispute resolution.

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