At the start of the academic year, the Department of Law at the London School of Economics invited participants from across the UK to compete in the inaugural LSE-Featherstone Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Moot. Named in honour of Baroness Lynne Featherstone, the ‘architect’ of the equal marriage legislation in England and Wales, the project aimed to bring together students, academics and practitioners through an LGBT+ themed mooting competition.
Two teams from the School of Law comprised of five fourth Year students participated in the LSE-Featherstone Moot – Ellen Andrew, John Gillespie and Iain Brown formed one team, whilst Rachael Jane Ruth and Ali Cooper formed the other. Stephen Bogle, Lecturer in Private Law and Mooting Coordinator at Glasgow, provided our primary source of advice for mooting preparation and also was an invaluable contact for communication with the competition organisers at LSE. Katy Docherty, a successful mooter and University of Glasgow alumnus, now a trainee with Pinsent Masons, graciously agreed to act as our Mooting Coach.
We were allocated as team 1 (Ellen, John and Iain) and team 41 (Rachael and Ali). This meant that during the first written rounds both teams were arguing in favour of the Respondents. The problem itself was plainly based on Lee v Ashers Baking Co. – commonly known as the ‘gay cake case’ – which was recently decided by the Northern Irish County Court. The case of Lee v Ashers Baking Co. concerned a bakery’s refusal to make a cake with the iced message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ on the grounds of their Christian belief and their Article 9 and 10 rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. The assigned problem which the teams were required to argue was relatively similar on facts – a Christian-run family printer refused the publication of a LGBT+ oriented magazine. In our problem, the Appellant was the editor of the magazine who contended he had been both directly and indirectly discriminated against, and that in addition he had been the victim of harassment.
Mid-February saw us submit 3000-word skeleton arguments in advance of the oral rounds in early March. Both teams were required to argue on behalf of the Respondents (the Christian printing company) which served as both a blessing and a curse: whilst we were able to discuss our arguments together and ensure we were working along the same themes, both teams were equally clueless as to the arguments which might be raised against us by the Appellant (the editor of the LGBT+ magazine). Katy, our coach, provided guidance not only on the validity of our legal arguments but also practical advice on the format and style of our submissions.
Arriving into London on the afternoon of Friday 4 March, it wasn’t until registration that we learned, to our horror, that our first moot was ‘off-skeleton’ and therefore we were required to argue the side of the problem with which we were less familiar. We had an hour or so left to prepare for the first moot, so both teams worked hard to ensure that simply reversing the argument we prepared for the Respondents was a sound approach to giving a strong case for the Appellant.
At the opening of the first moot, the judge announced that he was the judicial assistant to Lord Sumption and Lord Wilson in the Supreme Court during the judgement of Bull v Hall, a case that many contestants including ourselves sought to rely on during submissions. Although this meant Team 1 had to be extremely careful in their interpretation of Bull v Hall, they were confident in their research and arguments. In the first round team 41 faced the moot team who eventually finished the competition in second place. Considering we all mooted off-skeleton, both teams were pleased with our performance and received positive feedback from the judges.
The following morning, Iain, John and Ellen were to begin mooting at 9am. One of team 1’s judges, they later learned, had completed her LL.B at Glasgow, which they wished they had known ahead of time! Ali and I [Rachael] were confident facing our opponents in our second round moot and felt we were prepared for any curveballs the judges might throw our way. One judge in our moot was a respected Irish academic with a particular focus on human rights, and provided a number of highly contentious challenges to the submissions of both teams. Both judges asked the participants tough questions which really challenged our arguments, later indicating we should take their interrogation as a sign they had confidence in our ability to respond.
Following our second moots, we were disappointed to learn we hadn’t been chosen as one of the final eight competing teams. However, a number of prestigious universities had sent professional mooting teams to compete in the LSE-Featherstone moot, and the non-professional teams (such as ourselves) were quickly knocked out. We all attended a formal dinner for the competition participants at London’s Gray’s Inn in very grand surroundings, socialized with competitors and the prestigious judges from across the UK, and later went for drinks in central London with our new acquaintances.
Although we were disappointed not to have had the chance to compete in the final rounds, we all felt satisfied with our performance, pleased that we had competed, and as our coach, Katy, later said, ‘we did Glasgow proud’.
LSE hopes to encourage wider participation in the LSE-Featherstone Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Moot in future years, and a number of us intend to take part again next year. What we believe set our teams apart from the many professional mooting teams attending the competition was our genuine passion about the subject matter, and we encourage any interested students to join us taking on the top UK Universities in the LSE-Featherstone moot next year.
~ Rachael Jane Ruth & Ellen Andrew